Photo by Devin P. Grimes / Contributing Photographer
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (21-4, 11-1) returned to the Murphy Center tonight to take on the Old Dominion Monarchs (14-10, 7-5) at the Murphy Center. Bouncing back from a difficult loss at UTEP, the Blue Raider defense dominated the first half on the way to a 64-51 victory.
After failing to score against the Miners, senior forward Reggie Upshaw was aggressive early as he scored nine first-half points to lead a balanced offensive attack. Middle also caught fire from three-point land early, making five of their first 11 three-point shots. Xavier Habersham, Antwain Johnson and Ed Simpson each knocked down shots from distance to lead MTSU into halftime with a 32-21 lead.
As solid as the offense was, the defense was the real story of the first half. The Blue Raiders held the Monarchs to 29.2 percent shooting in the opening stanza, holding Brandan and B.J. Stith to a combined two points on 0-4 shooting.
The beginning of the second half saw ODU attempt to claw their way back into the game. A lack of energy on the Blue Raiders’ part helped the Monarchs get the deficit within 39-30. A Habersham three and a jump shot from Upshaw pushed the lead back to 14 for the Blue Raiders.
The Monarchs didn’t give up though, as they were able to pull within 48-42 with 8:20 to go in the game. Potts hit his second three of the game, starting a 10-2 run by Middle to pull away from ODU. A step-back three by Upshaw finished any comeback hopes the Monarchs had and the Blue Raiders won by a final score of 64-51.
Upshaw bounced back in a big way with 18 points to lead all scorers, while Potts finished with 14 points.
B.J. Stith led Old Dominion with 17 points.
This win continues a winless streak against the Blue Raiders by ODU, as they have failed to defeat MTSU in eight tries. Even with the history, coach Kermit Davis expected a tough, physical game and he believed his team’s toughness was the key to victory.
“The game was about what we expected. [They’re] a tough, physical team,” Davis said. “They guard at a high level and I thought we did a really good job holding them off the offensive boards…I thought we executed really well down the stretch.”
Upshaw was aggressive tonight after dealing with foul trouble at UTEP on Saturday. He said that the team’s mindset was key after the loss to the Miners.
“We played with a chip on our shoulder tonight,” Upshaw said. “After losing to UTEP when we had a lead…we made it a point to take care of the ball and be aggressive on the defensive end. We knew that they were a great offensive rebounding team, so we knew we had to play man to man and get a body on everyone going to the rim.”
With a matchup against Charlotte looming on Saturday, coach Davis knows that his team will have to be ready for another offensive battle.
“Charlotte is really a pro-style [offense],” Davis said. “Jon Davis may be the best guard in our league right now, but it’ll be a lot of possessions. It’ll be a game where hopefully we are in transition more…Charlotte is an outstanding offensive team.”
The Blue Raiders will take on the 49ers on Saturday with tip-off set for 5 p.m.