Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (29-4) are in the Conference USA Championship game after their one-sided 82-56 victory over the UTEP Miners (15-17).
While players like JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts are the backbone of the team, it’s been the play of guys like Ed Simpson, Antwain Johnson and Aldonis Foote that has keyed the Blue Raiders’ winning ways in the tournament. Simpson poured in 11 points and drilled three shots from long-range against the UTSA Roadrunners, while Antwain Johnson added 11 of his own against the Miners.
With the success of the bench, it makes the Blue Raiders an even more dangerous team. What makes it better is that it’s coming at a time when Middle Tennessee needs everyone on board.
“Our bench is playing, collectively, as good as it’s played all year. Our leads are increasing when we go to our bench,” Head coach Kermit Davis said. “Then you start bringing in [our starters] in fresh, so it’s a good time of year that everyone is playing well.”
One thing the bench also brings is defensive intensity. Early on, the team held UTEP without a basket for over three minutes, a stretch that allowed MT to build a bigger lead. Most of this was done with the starters on the bench, something Giddy Potts believed was crucial to their success.
“The bench came in and set the tone defensively…We just feed off their defense,” Potts said. “We just came out in the second half with the same amount of energy.”
The defense is led by Aldonis Foote. The senior forward has never been one to put up gaudy stats but he plays a huge role as the front of the team’s vaunted 1-3-1 zone defense.
His hustle and grit are no surprise to anybody with associated with the Blue Raiders, as Davis has the utmost confidence in Foote’s ability as a basketball player.
“He’s changed the energy in the last two games, he’s got nine assists in the last two games…he’s a point-forward like Reggie and JaCorey,” Davis said. “When he’s [dialed in], he’s a talent. He’s gotten over a couple injuries and now he’s got a razor-focus like he did this time last year.”
The Blue Raiders will go for their second straight conference championship tomorrow night when they take on the Marshall Thundering Herd at 7:30 p.m.