Photo by Joi Williams / MTSU Sidelines
Story by Devin P. Grimes / Contributing Writer
For the first time in school history, the 24th-ranked Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (23-5, 15-1) entered historic Murphy Center as a ranked team. The announcement did not distract this Top 25 team on Saturday night, as they dominated the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers 79-54 in front of over 9,000 fans.
After struggling to score early, the spark of Nick King and Giddy Potts stretched the Blue Raiders lead to 19-8 on the strength of a 12-2 run. Potts and King combined for 10 early points to give a spark for their teammates.
Antwain Johnson‘s veteran play helped extend the lead 40-19 at halftime, as he accounted for three assists, one block and a buzzer-beater three.
Solid play on offense led to open shots in the second half, and MTSU began to extend the lead. Potts continued his great shooting from the first frame, and he finished the game with 17 points on 5-9 shooting from beyond the arc. In the process, he also passed former Blue Raider Reggie Upshaw for fourth on the all-time scoring list.
The team as a whole connected on 11 three-pointers, as they finished the game shooting 40.7 percent from deep.
Middle Tennessee held UAB without a field goal the first three minutes of the half, as they switched to a 1-3-1 defensive set. Active hands on defense led to 28 points off of turnovers for the home team, and Middle Tennessee led 54-23 early in the second half because of it.
“We just locked in defensively, and played hard and aggressive,” King said.
King continued to show his skill from inside and outside the paint by finishing the game with 22 points and a 53.3 field goal percentage.
Sims’ ability to create high percentage shots for his teammates is something they appreciate.
“The ball just moves,” said Head Coach Kermit Davis. “(He had) four assists and no turnovers.
Sims is accustomed to playing quality minutes for this unit, and explained that it did not feel much different.
“I wasn’t really nervous, it just felt like another game,” Sims said. “It was cool having a huge crowd tonight, and having my first start as a freshman. Being (ranked as) in the nation is pretty humbling.”
The No. 24 team in college basketball served their huge crowd by not trailing at any point in the game and running the lead all the way up to 33 points at its peak. When all was said and done, Middle Tennessee won their 10th straight conference game by a final score of 79-54.
The Blue Raiders will now prepare to take on their heated rivals in the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Thursday. Although they beat this team in January, King knows they’ll have to bring their best game in order to win.
“I feel like we are the most precise and hardest working team at practice in the country,” King said. “If we continue to do that, stay locked in and take care of our bodies and get those nagging injuries under control, we will come out and play like we did today.”
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