By Rickey Fuquay, Jr. // Contributing Writer
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Middle Tennessee (15-13, 8-7 C-USA) used clutch shooting down the stretch to edge Western Kentucky Sunday at the Murphy Center, 68-66.
The game marked the 100th year of the “100 Miles of Hate” rivalry. MTSU has now beaten WKU three times in a row, and they have won eight of the last nine matches against the heated rival.
The win now brings the Blue Raiders within one-and-a-half games of Old Dominion and WKU for fourth place in the conference standings.
The Hilltoppers would go on a 17-10 run early to take a 19-14 lead with 11:28 left in the first half. The Blue Raiders answered with a 15-2 run of their own to take a 29-21 advantage with 7:18 left in the opening 20 minutes.
MTSU led 36-28 with 3:45 left in the opening frame, but WKU responded with a 7-2 run to cut the deficit to three points heading into the locker room, 38 -35.
The Hilltoppers started the second half on a 4-0 run, but the Blue Raiders answered with a 5-0 run of their own to take a 43-39 lead with 15:50 left in the second half. The two teams exchanged buckets for a large portion of the second half, resulting in MTSU leading 54-51 with 6:22 left in regulation.
WKU fought back though, going on a 7-4 run that tied the game at 58 with 3:15 remaining before the final whistle. Two clutch three-pointers from freshman Giddy Potts and junior Darnell Harris pushed the Blue Raiders out in front 64-59 with 1:35 left to go.
The Hilltoppers’ T.J. Price nailed one beyond-the-arc with 27.1 seconds left to cut MTSU lead to two, 66-64. Late free-throw makes from junior Perrin Buford and sophomore Reggie Upshaw sealed the deal for the Blue Raiders, as they won their second game in a row, 68-66.
Once again, Potts led the way as he tallied 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, including four three-pointers. The freshman guard also recorded six rebounds and two steals.
“It’s been great,” Potts said. “My teammates are giving me the ball and putting it there, telling me to shoot the ball, and that goes with confidence.”
Also in double figures for MTSU was Harris, who tallied 14 points, including four from beyond-the-arch, and three assists. Upshaw seems to be finding his groove, as he reached double figures for the fourth time in five games, dropping in 10 points on the afternoon to go along with eight rebounds and two assists.
For WKU (16-10, 9-5 C-USA), Price, the conference’s leading scorer, led the team with a game-high 24 points. George Fant recorded a double-double for the Hilltoppers, scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 boards.
The Blue Raiders shot a blistering 60 percent from the field on 24-of-40 shooting. They also remained hot from three-point land Sunday, nailing 52 percent of their shots from beyond-the-arc on 11-of-21 shooting.
The game was MTSU’s last at home for this season. They finished the year 12-3 at Murphy Center.
The Blue Raiders look to keep the momentum going this Saturday, as they travel to UAB to start a three-game road swing to end their regular season. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. CST, and the game will be nationally televised on the American Sports Network.
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