Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
For the second time this season, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (5-1) defeated the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (6-3). The teams first met on Nov. 21 in Murfreesboro, a game that resulted in an 85-72 Blue Raider victory.
Middle Tennessee started off slow in Fort Myers, Florida, on Saturday night, as the Eagles got off to an early 9-0 lead to start the game. The Blue Raiders then engineered a 15-4 run to gain their first lead of the night at 20-19 with 8:06 remaining in the opening half.
MTSU took a 34-31 lead at the halftime break after Nick King split a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining.
Middle Tennessee came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders, as the Blue Raiders turned a three-point lead into a 14-point lead when King knocked down a jumper to end the run. That advantage stayed in favor of Middle Tennessee for most of the second half.
The Eagles cut the MT lead all the way down to one point with 38 seconds left, after star Brandon Goodwin knocked down two free throws to make the score 75-74.
The game was eventually decided at the charity stripe. Following a Tyrik Dixon free throw with seven seconds left, Goodwin was fouled while shooting a three-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining. He made the first two attempts, but missed the last free throw that would have tied the contest at 77.
King grabbed his biggest rebound of the night, and was fouled on the play. He sunk the dagger free throws that completed the Blue Raiders’ 81-76 victory.
King scored a season and game-high 32 points to go along with a game-high 11 rebounds in the winning effort. Brandon Walters chipped in 12 points and four rebounds, while David Simmons had another solid game off the bench with 11 points on 4-6 shooting from the field.
Goodwin led FGCU with 26 points on the night, shooting 8-17 from the field and 3-7 from beyond the arc. Christian Carlyle followed with 18 points on 6-9 shooting, two rebounds and two steals.
King continues hot start
King continued his hot start to the 2017-18 campaign on Saturday night. The graduate-transfer scored a season-high 32 points and collected a season-high 11 rebounds en route to his first double-double of the season.
This was King’s second 30-point performance of the season, and his first since his 31-point showing against Murray State on Nov. 13. The free throws made by King at the end of the game were also his first game-winning buckets since he hit a mid-range jumper to beat the Racers.
King is currently averaging 24.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game to start the season, putting himself on the fast track for the C-USA Player of the Year Award.
Bench players play key role in securing the victory despite key injury
The Blue Raiders reserve unit outscored the Florida Gulf Coast bench unit for the second straight game. Simmons provided the essential spark in securing the victory, as he logged 11 points on 4-6 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. He provided big time minutes in Antwain Johnson‘s absence, as he did not play due to an undisclosed injury.
Karl Gamble provided ten minutes of solid play, as he logged five points and a rebound. Freshman Therren Shelton-Szmidt contributed his second-highest scoring total of the season with 5 points and three boards.
Blue Raiders show little signs of rust after 11-day hiatus
One of the bigger concerns going into the game on Saturday night would be the play of MTSU following an 11-day holiday break. Small signs of rust showed early, as FGCU jumped out to an early 9-0 lead and eventually held a lead as large as 13-1 with 15:43 left in the first half.
“We certainly looked like a team that had been off for ten days early in the game,” said head coach Kermit Davis. “We kind of stabilized ourselves though, and we were able to stay in it because we really started to rebound the ball at a high level.”
The Blue Raiders continue their season on Wednesday night as they travel to Nashville to take on SEC foe, the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Commodores are 3-4 and are coming off of a 74-62 home victory versus Radford on Tuesday night.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3.
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