Men’s Basketball: Blue Raiders roll UTEP for third straight conference win


Photo by Joi Williams / MTSU Sidelines

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (16-5, 8-1) dominated the University of Texas-El Paso Miners (7-14, 2-7) by a score of 81-50 to win their 14th consecutive conference home game on Saturday night.

The game was a one-sided affair from the opening tip as senior Brandon Walters scored two quick lay-ups to give MTSU an early lead. The Blue Raiders relied heavily on their defense in the first half and locked down on the boards to take complete control of the game.

With five minutes remaining in the first half, the Miners were down 22-8 thanks to an abysmal 14 percent shooting percentage.

The Blue Raiders took full advantage of the poor performance, walking into the locker room with a 30-17 lead despite the fact that seniors Giddy Potts and Nick King combined for only five points, and the team shot only 40 percent from the field.

However, senior guard Ed Simpson picked up the slack by scoring a team-high nine points on 2-3 shooting in the first half.

“It was huge for my confidence,” Simpson said. “Just to see those shots go down that you have been working on all week boosts the rest of your game.”

The entertaining second half saw the Blue Raiders dominate. It all started when sophomore Tyrik Dixon found junior Antwain Johnson on a lob-pass from the top of the key, which resulted in an emphatic dunk. He found Walters on another dunk later in the half.

A second-half offensive blitz by the Blue Raiders proved to be too much for UTEP, and the rout was officially on. MTSU recorded 19 assists and scored 51 second-half points. The Miner defense became overwhelmed by the Middle Tennessee depth and could never get their team back in the game.

After the 12:36 mark of the second half, the UTEP deficit never got below 20 points, and at one point, it was as high as 36. MTSU went on to dribble out the clock and secure the 31-point blowout of their conference foe by a final score of 81-50.

Front court dominates again in victory

While King is the frontrunner for the Conference USA Player of the Year Award and is the Blue Raiders leading scorer, other members of the Middle Tennessee forward unit dominated Saturday night’s contest. Walters recorded his first career double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds .

“It felt great,” Walters said. “Knowing that I was able to rebound and play physical in the paint and just take my time with the ball and finish the play, (it felt good).”

Reserve forward Karl Gamble provided some key minutes for the Blue Raiders, as he poured in one of his best offensive scoring nights of the season. He scored 12 points on 5-8 shooting from the field.

“Karl is critical,” said head coach Kermit Davis. “He played a lot better down the stretch … I thought he really caught the ball around the goal better and was physical. He made good shots, and he is getting more confidence.”

Blue Raider depth on full display

Middle Tennessee won the battle of the benches on Saturday night, outscoring the Miners’ subs by a mark of 36-21.

There were 11 different players that scored for the Blue Raiders, including a career-high five points from freshman Donovan Sims.

Davis was especially complimentary of the Blackman High School alumnus after the game.

“Donovan Sims helps a bunch,” Davis said. “By him pitching it ahead to the right guys, the floor opens up. So now, teams are trying to close out with the floor spread well … I thought our guys really shared the ball.”

MTSU plays to their strengths on defense

Over the past couple years, MTSU has become synonymous with dominant defense and rebounding. On Saturday night, the Blue Raiders perfectly executed their style of play.

The Miners were held to a season-low 17 points in the first half and shot only 22 percent from the floor. While things got better in the second half, UTEP still only managed to shoot 33 percent from the field for the game.

On the rebounding end, Walters’ 12 boards and King’s eight were almost enough to out-rebound the entire UTEP squad. They were only able to muster 26 total rebounds as a team while the Blue Raiders grabbed 42 boards.

What’s next?

The Blue Raiders hit the road and head to Norfolk, Virginia, as they face the Old Dominion Monarchs in a battle for C-USA supremacy. The Monarchs are sitting in a tie for first place with an overall record of 16-4 and 7-1 in conference play.

To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email sports@mtsusidelines.com.

For more sports stories, follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter and Periscope at @Sidelines_Sport.

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