Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
Following a tough loss at home on Thursday night against Belmont, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (3-1) g0t a big win on the road over in-state rival Tennessee State on Saturday by a score of 75-65.
Middle Tennessee got off to a 14-0 run after Tennessee State guard Armani Chaney knocked down a three-pointer on their first possession of the game, taking a lead that wouldn’t get below nine the rest of the game.
“It’s kind of tough to fight back … Basketball is a game of runs,” Chaney said.
The Tigers were led by Chaney who scored 14 points on 5-7 shooting from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arc.
The Blue Raiders got another big-time scoring performance from Nick King. The senior forward scored a game-high 20 points on an efficient 8-13 from the field and 3-5 from three-point range. MTSU also got big minutes from Brandon Walters, who returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench on Thursday night.
Walters scored 14 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
Walters-King combo dominates paint for second straight game
The Blue Raider starting forward combo, made up of King and Walters, was the biggest difference-maker in the win on Saturday. The lethal front court duo combined for 34 points and 12 rebounds along with a monster block from Walters in the first half.
The connection between the two on court is a direct result of the connection off court, as the two have formed a great relationship.
“We see each other every day, and everybody is like brothers … When everyone is like brothers the game just comes so smoothly,” King said after the big win. “Coach always says that the posts are going to come at us aggressively, and when they do, we have to meet them head on and punch them in the mouth first and keep our foot on the pedal throughout the game.”
Head coach Kermit Davis was specifically complimentary of Walters following his big performance, citing a better attitude as the main catalyst for his improvement.
“His maturity level has risen … He’s a nice kid, and we all love Brandon, but he used to let every little thing bother him on the floor,” Davis said. “His maturity level has to keep getting better. Today he played 31 minutes, which is the most he has ever played in his college career, and we’re proud he can do that now.”
Blue Raider bench displays deadly depth
The bench was another deciding factor in Saturday’s showdown at Tennessee State. The Blue Raider reserves outscored the TSU bench 23-12 and had five different players come off the bench and score points.
The second unit stepped up in a noticeable way and no other play exemplified that than in the second half when the Blue Raiders made six passes around the perimeter with each player touching it at least once. It led to a wide open Donovan Sims three-point bucket.
Bench play didn’t go unnoticed by Davis, as it led to more minutes for everyone off the pine in the second half.
“Our bench outscored Belmont’s bench, and tonight we got 23 from them … On one possession, all five guys touched the basketball, and Donovan Sims made a three in the corner,” Davis said. “It was fun to watch, fun for coaches and fun for fans to watch.”
Guard play improves after struggling performance against Belmont
After the game on Thursday night, Davis was highly critical of the veteran guards following their poor performance.
Saturday was a different story as the guards forced 12 turnovers and got exceptional production from point guard Tyrik Dixon as he was reinserted into the starting lineup. Dixon had a solid all-around showing as he scored nine points and a team-high five assists.
“I thought Tyrik looked more into his form from last season. He played downhill and had more focus,” Davis said.
With the improvement of Dixon came the struggles of Giddy Potts. Potts struggled shooting the ball on Thursday, and it carried over to the game on Saturday.
Potts shot 2-6 from the game and only logged 25 minutes as he never seemed to get into the flow offensively.
“Giddy isn’t guarding at a high level,” Davis said regarding Potts’ defensive performance. “He’s got to be able to score off the dribble … We can’t just run screens to get him open threes, but the defense is on top of him.”
The road victory for the Blue Raiders improved their record to 3-1 on the young season and was their second straight road win. The season continues on Tuesday night at the Murphy Center as they take on former NCAA Tournament bracket-buster Florida Gulf Coast. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3.
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