Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (30-4) are on their way to the NCAA Tournament after an exciting 83-72 victory over the Marshall Thundering Herd (20-15).
Giddy Potts opened the game with two threes to give MT a quick 6-0 lead, something that was a pleasant sight to see for the Blue Raiders. After a Marshall basket the break the run, the Blue Raiders continued their solid execution on offense to take a 13-2 lead over the Thundering Herd.
One thing MTSU had to do to be successful was hold Marshall’s three-point shooting in check. They did just that by playing aggressive defense and forcing the Herd to miss their first ten attempts from long-range,enabling MT to build and hold a solid lead throughout the first half.
Marshall put together a few solid possessions before halftime to pull within eight, but the Blue Raiders managed to hold them at bay with a 40-32 lead. JaCorey Williams led the Blue Raiders with 11 first-half points, while Potts added 10 of his own.
The Herd began knocking down more threes in the second half, eight threes to pull within two points at several junctions in the game. Middle Tennessee got big minutes from every reserve and none made a bigger second-half impact than Brandon Walters, who scored two crucial buckets to help push the lead back up every time Marshall cut into it.
In the end, the three-point shooting simply wasn’t there for the Herd and for the second straight season, the Blue Raiders cut the nets down and took home the championship hardware after winning the Conference USA championship game 83-72.
Potts is the MVP of the Tournament
After averaging 14 points a game through the first two match-ups, Potts turned it up in this one by leading all scorers with 30 points, the second time he’s done that this season. While he’s known for his three-point shooting, he added more to his game this year and it showed this game.
Potts made plays when they mattered as well, scoring big buckets like the one below to help push the Raiders to victory.
After the Thundering Herd stormed back in the second half, Potts took the pass from Reggie Upshaw and put down a powerful dunk to stretch the Blue Raider lead.
— David (@D_Chamberlain_) March 12, 2017
The junior is expected to be a leader on this team next year, something Kermit Davis knows won’t be an issue.
“He’s already made a name and [will] be one of the very best players in the history of our school,” Davis said. “He’s such a good team and he had a chip about being third-team…that was good motivation we could use coming into the tournament.”
Blue Raiders contain the Herd’s shooting ability
Jon Elmore and Austin Loop were leading a lethal three-point attack and just the last game, they helped the Herd make a conference-record 19 threes. They were contained much more in this game, as they only made two first-half threes and ten for the game.
Loop did most of the damage in this one, knocking down four threes to lead the team. Guard Stevie Browning added three long-range shots of his own and Elmore only hit on three of his nine attempts. The defense was crucial to the win, as a showing like the last game might’ve caused the game to end differently.
Blue Raiders are heading back to the big dance
After last season’s stunning upset against Michigan State, the Blue Raiders were eager to prove that they weren’t just a one-hit wonder. After a season that saw the team win more games than any other in school history, JaCorey Williams can finally appreciate all the hard work he’s put in.
“I’m very satisfied. I sat on the sidelines a long time last year,” Williams said. “I didn’t really see myself helping this much but I just tried to do whatever I could. I just thank [Reggie and Giddy] and Coach Davis and the athletic director for giving me a chance to be a Blue Raider.”
Williams became an instant leader on the team, making plays all season to help the team set the new wins record. His performance this season led to his selection on the C-USA All-Conference First Team. Like Potts, Williams was a dominant scoring force today as he got several baskets down low to help the team.
Williams coming out strong in the second half pic.twitter.com/oNqSHmPu2B
— David (@D_Chamberlain_) March 12, 2017
Final MTSU Stats
Final MTSU stats pic.twitter.com/qLMAaWxPwk
— Rusty Ellis (@RustyEllis13) March 12, 2017
The Blue Raiders will return home to Murfreesboro for Selection Sunday to learn their fate for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.