Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (8-2) escaped with a win against the Princeton Tigers (5-7) on Friday, as senior guard Giddy Potts knocked down a long two-point jumper with four seconds remaining in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic.
The Tigers gave the Blue Raiders more than they could handle, as they held the lead for over 23 minutes during Friday’s back-and-forth affair. The game saw seven ties and 13 lead changes overall.
Middle Tennessee experienced a cold start to the game, and Princeton scored the first six points as a direct effect. The Blue Raiders failed to score a point until the 16:57 mark of the first half when Nick King connected on a two-point jumper to break the ice.
The slow start continued for MTSU however, as they trailed for most of the first half. They saw themselves down by as many as seven points with 9:22 left in the opening stanza after Amir Bell converted a three-point play.
They did not give in however, as Potts’ second three-pointer of the night capped off an 8-0 run for the Blue Raiders and gave them their first lead of the game by a score of 18-17. The lead did not last long, as Princeton took it right back after Richmond Aririguzoh connected on a jump shot 14 seconds later.
The last five minutes of the half saw plenty of back-and-forth action, and was concluded by a three-point jumper by Princeton guard Devin Cannady (16 points) with 44 seconds remaining to give the Princeton a 28-23 lead at halftime.
The Blue Raiders came out of the break swinging, with Potts finding the bottom of the net from three-point distance to cut the lead to two. Less than a minute later, Tyrik Dixon found his stroke from deep and knocked down a three-pointer to give MTSU a one-point advantage by a score of 29-28.
That momentum carried them to their largest lead of the game, when King completed an old-fashioned three-point play to give the Blue Raiders a 34-30 lead with 17:19 remaining.
Like other leads in this game, it did not last long. Princeton erased the four-point deficit on Aaron Young’s three-point jumper to tie the contest up at 38.
Following two Cannady free throws, the game became all tied up once again by a score of 60 with 2:05 left to play. David Simmons drove to the basket and made a tough, running lay-up to break the tie. Bell then found Young on the perimeter, where he connected on another three-pointer to give the Tigers a 63-62 lead with a minute left.
The Blue Raiders stole the lead right back when King found Brandon Walters for a lay-up and the lead. Walters proceeded to split a pair of free throws with 29 seconds remaining to give MT a 65-63.
Princeton inched back within one point when Bell split two free throws. Simmons made two free throws of his own to keep the Blue Raider advantage at three with 24 seconds on the clock.
On the next Princeton possession, Bell found a wide-open Sebastian Much for his second shot from behind the arc to tie the game at 67 with only 17 seconds on the clock.
With the game on the line, Potts dribbled the ball down on the next possession, sized up Princeton guard Myles Stephens and buried a long two-point jumper to give the Blue Raiders a 69-67 advantage with only four seconds to go.
Stephens threw up a prayer from long range for Princeton, but the half-court heave was no good and the Blue Raiders survived the Tigers upset attempt by a score of 69-67
Potts plays hero, reaches important milestone
After his fourth three-pointer of the night, Potts broke the school’s record for most career three-point field goals made.
“I had a feeling I was going to do it in this game,” Potts said. “It was good to get (the record) in Hawaii.”
The three-point record was not the only important accomplishment for Potts on Friday night. He has been trying to find his range again after starting this season at a 33 percent mark from behind the three-point line. After Friday night, Potts seems to have found his consistency.
He shot 50 percent from deep and scored 14 points on the night. Two of those points were the biggest of the game, as his jumper in the final four seconds proved to be a difference-maker.
“I’ve been working on (that shot) since I got to college,” Potts said. “For me to make that shot down the stretch to win us that game means a lot.”
King leads the Blue Raiders in scoring once again
Following his 12-point performance against Auburn, King responded with a more efficient showing against Princeton.
King scored a team-high 18 points on 8-17 shooting with five rebounds and four assists.
After committing a season-high seven turnovers against Auburn, King took much better care of the ball on Friday. He only committed one turnover throughout the entirety of the game.
Gamble, Simmons provide big minutes off the bench
In a game as close as the one on Friday, every minute and every possession matter. The more you can get from your reserves, the more likely you are to come away victorious. Karl Gamble and Simmons both provided that spark against Princeton.
Gamble scored eight points and grabbed four minutes in his 19 minutes of action. Six of those eight points came from the free throw line, as Gamble went a perfect 6-6 from the charity stripe.
Simmons played 16 minutes off the bench and contributed nine points and three rebounds on 3-4 shooting from the floor. This included a lay-up to give the Blue Raiders a lead with 1:26 left, and a pair of free throws to give them a three-point cushion with 24 seconds to go.
With big games left on the schedule, Middle Tennessee will need this production to continue if they want to win consistently.
The Blue Raiders advance to the semi-finals of the Diamond Head Classic where they will take on the USC Trojans on Saturday. The Trojans are coming off of an 84-53 blow-out win over Akron in their opening game of the tournament, and the game will tip-off at 3:30 p.m. CT.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3.
To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email firstname.lastname@example.org.