Photo by David Chamberlain / MTSU Sidelines
After a two-game road stretch, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (15-5, 7-1) started their Murphy Center homestand Thursday with a 75-51 win over the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners (10-11, 3-5).
The Blue Raiders came into this game tied for first place in C-USA and were riding high after a big win at Western Kentucky on Saturday, while UTSA was searching for a statement win that could turn their season around.
The first half opened with both teams letting it fly from deep. UTSA guard Deon Lyle came off the bench to knock down two back-to-back threes to give the Roadrunners a 14-11 lead with 12:23 left in the first half.
Sophomore Tyrik Dixon ended the opening act on a good note when he nailed a three to put the home team up eight going into the half.
Despite being ahead on the scoreboard, head coach Kermit Davis didn’t like how his team finished the first half.
“We got a little stagnant offensively in the last 10 minutes of the first half,” Davis said.
Throughout the first half, senior Nick King was solid as usual. He finished the stanza with 12 points on 5-7 shooting.
The Blue Raiders jumped out to a 13-point advantage in the second frame, but the Roadrunners quickly cut that lead to eight.
After allowing UTSA to get back into the game, Middle Tennessee went into defensive-lockdown mode. Over the next five minutes, MT held the Roadrunners scoreless while the offense got into gear.
A technical foul on Jhivvan Jackson was all the Blue Raiders needed to go on a run and put the game out of reach. After sinking the two free throws, Antwain Johnson knocked down his third three-pointer of the game to put MT up 52-36 with 11:13 left in the game.
Johnson then leaked out for a big slam dunk to give the Blue Raiders a 15-point lead with 8:32 remaining.
— Rusty Ellis (@RustyEllis13) January 26, 2018
In the final minutes, MT went on a 19-2 run to close out an impressive 75-51 win over over UTSA.
Contrary to the first, Davis loved the way his team played in the second.
“In the second half, we got more assisted baskets and ended up with 16 assists,” Davis said. “It was good to see our team in transition, and the ball movement was good.”
King finished the game with 22 points on 57 percent shooting, knocking down three of his four three-pointers.
Lockdown defense leads way to victory
The Roadrunners came into this game averaging 81.2 points per game, but Middle Tennessee put the locks on them from the jump. When all was said and done, the Blue Raiders held them to 30 points under their average.
“I thought our team throughout the whole game guarded at a pretty high level,” Davis said.
In every conference game that MT has played this year, they have held the opposing team under their scoring average. This includes top scoring team Marshall in addition to UTSA.
Johnson’s scoring outburst propels the offense
After only tallying two points in a win over WKU, Johnson finished this game with 15 points on 40 percent shooting.
“I felt way more active and more comfortable in the game tonight,” Johnson said.
Davis trusted the junior guard to regain his stroke against UTSA, and he certainly has more room to grow.
“He’s a great shooter,” Davis said. “I know at some point, he’s going to make outside shots. I know that for a fact.”
Blue Raiders dominate on the boards
Middle Tennessee pulled down 45 rebounds compared to UTSA’s 26.
Senior Brandon Walters led the way on the boards by grabbing 14 total rebounds, including four offensive rebounds.
The guards also grabbed their fair share of rebounds. Dixon and Johnson grabbed five boards, while Giddy Potts added six.
Coach Davis emphasized the importance of his guards being active on the glass.
“I say it to Antwain all the time, if you’re a perimeter guy, and you grab five or seven rebounds, you’ll play good and shots will go in,” Davis said. “That’s just how basketball works.”
To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more sports stories, follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter and Periscope at @Sidelines_Sport.