BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Middle Tennessee (18-15) kept their NCAA tournament hopes alive Thursday, upsetting third-seeded Old Dominion 59-52, advancing to the Conference-USA tournament semifinals.
The Blue Raiders got out to a quick start in Thursday’s contest, leading 7-0 over the Monarchs at the 13:12 mark. MTSU came out strong on defense, holding ODU scoreless for the first 7:20 of the first half. The Monarchs finally got on the board with a Trey Freeman jumper with 12:40 left in the opening 20 minutes.
Freeman single-handedly kept ODU (24-7) in the game in the first half. Freeman scored 15 of the team’s 20 points.
MTSU’ led by as many as nine twice in the first half, but behind the scoring of Freeman, ODU refused to go away. A Richard Ross dunk at the end of the half pulled the Monarchs within five, 25-20, heading to the locker room.
In the second half, the Monarchs came out hot, making seven of their first eight shots from the field. Old Dominion took their first lead of the game at the 17:16 mark after a Denzell Taylor layup put them ahead 28-27.
ODU went on a 14-2 run in the early stages of the second half, giving them a 36-29 advantage with 14:46 remaining. Hope seemed to be slipping away for the Blue Raiders, but a pair of three-pointers got them right back in it.
Three-pointers by DJ Jones and Darnell Harris cut the Monarchs’ lead to 36-35 with 12:54 left to go. Jaqawn Raymond tied the game at 38 with 9:52 left in regulation, making it three-consecutive made baskets from beyond-the-arc for the Blue Raiders.
MTSU and ODU continued to battle over the waning minutes of the game, and the teams sat deadlocked at 46 apiece with 4:36 left in the contest. Baskets by Perrin Buford and Reggie Upshaw put the Blue Raiders on top 51-46 with less than two minutes remaining.
From there on, it was all about making free throws. MTSU came up clutch in this aspect, sinking 8-of-10 from the charity stripe in the last two minutes to finish off the 59-52 upset. The win was Head Coach Kermit Davis’ 250th as coach of Middle Tennessee.
Junior Perrin Buford led the Blue Raiders on the day, finishing with 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field, and 7-of-11 from the line. Raymond finished the game with 13 points, including making 7-of-8 from the free-throw line.
The Blue Raiders came up huge at the charity stripe, finishing 22-of-30 from the line in the game, compared to Old Dominion’s 8-of-19.
Both teams committed 11 turnovers in the contest, however, MTSU was more effective at turning these into points. They outscored ODU 16-5 in points off turnovers.
Freeman’s game-high 24 points led Old Dominion, but it was not enough, as only one other Monarch finished in double figures Thursday. Javonte Douglas was the only other Monarch to score in double figures, finishing with 10 points.
Middle Tennessee now advances to the semifinals to face second-seeded Texas-El Paso Friday. The Blue Raiders lost their only regular-season matchup with the Miners 83-70 on Jan. 31 in El Paso.
MTSU will be looking to pull off another upset against UTEP and make it to the C-USA Championship. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. CST.
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