Photo by David Chamberlain / MTSU Sidelines
The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders began their 2018 campaign at Murphy Center on Tuesday night against the Lees-McRae Bobcats. The Blue Raiders captured their first victory of the new season with nearly an entirely new roster and coaching staff.
New head coach Nick McDevitt replaced Kermit Davis after Davis’ 17-year tenure with the Blue Raiders ended when he took the open head coaching position at Ole Miss in the offseason. McDevitt stepped into the head coaching role for MTSU and overhauled the roster in a matter of months. The only remaining players from Davis’ roster last season are Donovan Sims, Antonio Green, Karl Gamble, James Hawthorne, TJ Massenburg and Chase Miller.
Sims took over the starting point guard role after the dismissal of Tyrik Dixon and showed massive growth in his abilities in the first outing. Sims saw increased minutes of play last season and blossomed into a complete point guard who can shoot from deep, inside and pass with great vision.
Sims and Green dominated the game from tip-off to finish. Green redshirted last season and did not see the court but took full advantage in his first opportunity in the Blue Raiders starting line up.
The Blue Raiders jumped out to a quick lead and maintained a double-digit lead for a majority of the first half. The offense was in a rhythm after a few miscues early. However, the second half was a different story. A bit of fatigue began to set in for MTSU and the turnovers began to rack up.
“I thought our team was good,” McDevitt said. “We were good at staying organized in the first half and grinding out the lead we had built at halftime.”
The Bobcats were able to cut the lead to nine halfway through the second half, but McDevitt was quick to call a timeout and make the necessary adjustments.
The Blue Raiders were able to hit big baskets down the stretch and milk the clock to secure the first victory of the 2018 season and McDevitt’s first win as head coach of the Blue Raiders, 91-69.
Green’s hot shooting from the start
Green had not played a live game of basketball in just over 600 days. It was his first time seeing the court at Murphy Center and he did not waste any time making an impact on the team. Green opened the first half shooting 6-10 and 3-6 from beyond the arc on three-point attempts.
“I wasn’t nervous at all. I was just anxious to play,” Green said. “I’m in the gym all the time. I wanted to get back out there and compete against other people besides my teammates.”
He had a staggering 18 points and connected on all of his attempts from the free-throw line in the first. Green was able to get into a flow and it was evident with the confidence he shot the ball. He did not hesitate to pull the trigger anytime he had an open shot on the floor. He and Sims were connecting nicely and were playing well off of each other.
Lack of chemistry lead to turnover and miscues
The Blue Raiders held a 20-point lead at halftime but turned the ball over 12 times. Those turnovers were on missed passes to wide open teammates or passes to teammates who were nowhere close to the intended spot.
“We were a little sluggish to start the second half,” McDevitt said. “(We) turned it over too many times with 23 turnovers, but I like the way we shot the ball. We made a lot of free throws, rebounded the ball well and were able to get a good win here on opening night.”
The Blue Raiders are playing with a whole new cast of players. Freshmen Junior Farquhar and Anthony Crump saw a good amount of minutes in their first ever collegiate game, as well as TJ Massenburg who redshirted last season too.
The Blue Raiders were able to walk away with a victory in the first game against a Division II opponent with 23 total turnovers but that trend cannot continue if they hope to be competitive within Conference USA. However, with more experience and games played as a team, the chemistry should improve immensely throughout the season.
“I think we can clean that up just getting in better shape week by week. (We need to) take it on ourselves to be more crisp,” Sims said.
McDevitt era begins
McDevitt won his first game as Blue Raider and will have a lot to build on moving forward. McDevitt will have expectations placed upon him based off where this program has been in recent years under Davis. McDevitt looks to carry the torch and not miss a beat from where the Blue Raiders were last season as C-USA champions.
The national media has had their eyes on MTSU in the recent seasons due to the success Davis had with the team. It will be up to McDevitt to maintain that national attention as the Blue Raiders embark on a new campaign with a new regime. Although it was one game, there was good and bad that McDevitt can take away on opening night. Most importantly, he led his team to an opening night victory.
The Blue Raiders will host their second game at Murphy Center against Milligan at 11 a.m. on Friday morning. MTSU will look to clean up their mistakes from the first game and continue to build much-needed chemistry.