Photo by Darwin Moore / MTSU Sidelines
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (24-4, 14-1) are in one of the most crucial stretches of the season, two games into a tough three-game swing. Middle dominated the first two matchups, winning 78-52 at rival Western Kentucky before earning a 97-86 decision at Marshall.
The Blue Raiders used double-doubles from JaCorey Williams (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Reggie Upshaw (19 points, 11 rebounds) to dominate the Hilltoppers in a game that MT led by as much as 32 at one point. Williams poured in 25 points and eight boards in Huntington in the victory over the Thundering Herd. Junior guard Giddy Potts added 19 points of his own in the win. Head Coach Kermit Davis believes that the team’s mindset leading up to the road trip was the biggest key to their success.
“I thought we had a really good week of practice before that [week]. I thought our depth and our bench play was really good in both games,” Davis said. “The overall energy and approach of our team was really good, especially in two really good environments on the road.”
While Williams, Upshaw and Potts are rounding into form with the Conference USA tournament looming, it’s been the work of senior forward Xavier Habersham that has helped the Raiders to their last two wins. Habersham tied his career-high in points and threes made in a game in the win over WKU, recording 12 points on four threes. The man they call “X” continued his solid play against the Thundering Herd, scoring ten points in the victory.
Davis instilled more belief in Habersham that he could assert himself more on the offensive end. That mentality was crucial for him, especially in the last two games.
“I liked that I came out with confidence and helped score the ball,” Habersham said. “Coach had a meeting with me, he wanted me to come out and try to score me because we need more scorers.”
While many may not look at Habersham as a go-to player, Davis firmly believes that there is a direct correlation between his success and the team’s success.
“When he plays good, our team plays good. He gives us a second or third really good outside shooter,” Davis said. “He’s a good physical defender. We just hope that he’ll keep improving because he’ll be a huge player for us down the stretch.”
One of the things that Davis credits Habersham with is his toughness. After taking an elbow to the face against Old Dominion, Habersham suffered a broken nose and required surgery. That didn’t stop him, as he played through the injury and didn’t’t let the thought of surgery stop him from playing well.
“He had surgery this past Tuesday, so for a guy to play with a broken nose and expecting surgery shows his toughness,” Davis said. “He was really dialed in and was a really big part in our two wins.”
With the team on another winning streak, Habersham believes that the team still needs to improve heading into March.
“We need to work on our transition defense,” Habersham said. “I think that’ll be our biggest key, to get better at defending and rebounding [in transition].”
The Blue Raiders head to Birmingham on Saturday and will take on the UAB Blazers on Sunday at noon. The game can be viewed on the CBS Sports Network.