Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
Middle Tennessee (14-3, 4-0 C-USA) beat the Marshall Thundering Herd (11-7, 4-1 C-USA) Thursday night in a battle of C-USA unbeatens in front of 4,598 inside Murphy Center. MTSU got the best of the Herd, shutting down their critically acclaimed offense en route to a final score of 69-57.
Blue Raider standout JaCorey Williams scored the first four points of the night with an up-and-under, followed by a two-handed slam to immediately get the energy flowing.
Coming into the matchup, MTSU knew it would be a challenge going up against a team that averaged 89.9 points per game. Marshall also came into Murfreesboro with 6-foot-3 sharp shooter Jon Elmore, a guy who leads C-USA with 21.1 points and 6.5 assists per game.
But on Thursday night, MTSU came to play. The team not only held Marshall to 32 points below their season average, but they also stifled Elmore as he had just one made field until the final minute of the game. He would finish with 10 points.
“That’s about as well as we’ve defended all year. Dan D’Antoni is one of the best offensive coaches in all of college basketball,”said head coach Kermit Davis. “I thought our physicality was good; our changing of defense was good. I was really proud.”
On the other end, it was MTSU’s 6-10 freshman center Brandon Walters who shined. He was a force in the middle who seemed almost unstoppable when he got the ball.
Walters, along with forward JaCorey Williams combined for 15 of MTSU’s first 25 points.
“[Walters] played like that on our [Texas] trip. When we were at Rice and at North Texas, he really started to come along,” said Davis. “He almost scores more points than anybody in practice. He’s physical, he’s big, he gives you a great presence, he’s got great hands and he’s getting himself into better shape.”
Walters would go on to finish with 11 points in 13 minutes of play due to foul trouble.
The Blue Raiders lead 37-29 over the Thundering Herd at halftime, dominating on the boards in the process.
Through the first 20 minutes, MTSU lead Marshall 30-11 in rebounding.
The Blue Raiders lost their momentum about five minutes into the second half, about the time Walters exited the game with his fourth foul.
MTSU wouldn’t miss a beat, however, as Karl Gamble checked in and tallied a bucket in his first minute on the floor. He would finish with four.
The Blue Raiders wouldn’t cruise to victory, however, as Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni would get the best out of his guys in the final minutes.
The Herd overcame a once 18-point deficit to make it 60-48 with key performances from Ryan Taylor and Stevie Browning. Taylor would finish with 12 while Browning would total 11.
MTSU would counter with a few defensive stands and by slowing down the Herd’s fast-pace game.
In the end, it was just the Blue Raider’s night. The team outrebounded Marshall by an astonishing 58-25 number, a stat MTSU Davis said was the difference in the game.
“That’s a pretty staggering number, 58-25,” Davis said. “If you rebound the ball like that, you’re going to guard them well. In order to be a great offensive rebounding team, you’ve got to have great energy. That just transformed right over to the defense end, I think that’s what it did tonight.”
MTSU also tallied 40 points in paint compared to the Herd’s 22.
The Blue Raiders had four double-digit scorers on the night JaCorey Williams leading them all with 16. He also put together his sixth double-double of the season, hauling in 11 boards.
Giddy Potts would fall in line with 14 while Tyrik Dixon chipped in 10.
The Blue Raiders are back in the Murphy Center this Saturday at 5 p.m. when they take on Rick Stanberry’s Western Kentucky (10-7, 3-1 C-USA) team.
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