Photo courtesy of Go Blue Raiders
The force was with Middle Tennessee (7-2), as they routed Belmont (7-5) 83-62 on Star Wars night at the Murphy Center. The Blue Raiders’ margin of victory, 21, was the largest against Belmont since December 7, 1985, when the team hung 100 points on the Bruins to win by 29. This was also Middle Tennessee’s first win over Belmont since 2011.
“They’ve had their way with us,” Head Coach Kermit Davis said. “They’ve won some really good, hard-fought, close games; one last year. They have a lot of toughness, and their toughness is under-rated. Tonight we played a complete game: we shot a good percentage, the ball flowed, we got good bench play tonight, and the key stat was points off turnovers and fast break points.”
The Blue Raiders were going up against a Belmont team that was averaging 84.5 points coming into Thursday’s matchup. Middle Tennessee was able to get a stop on the Bruins first possession, which gave the guys on the floor noticeable confidence going forward that they could shut down Belmont’s high-powered offensive regime.
“When you can get a stop right out of the gate of a game, it’s going to give you some confidence that can carry over throughout the game,” senior guard Perrin Buford said.
Belmont stuck to their game plan of moving the ball around the perimeter and shooting lots of threes, which failed miserably against an athletic Blue Raider defense. The Blue Raiders were just able to out-match the Bruins athletically and physically, as Belmont is built to score points from the perimeter, not in the paint.
“We didn’t play any our 1-3-1, we just went man-to-man. We did play some 2-3 zone and gave up a couple threes against it. I thought our defensive depth was good tonight. The guys we brought off the bench didn’t score a bunch of points, but they guarded well. You hold Belmont to 37 percent [shooting] and 62 points, that’s pretty hard to do,” Davis said.
The Blue Raiders struggled to get in the flow of things early on in the first half, but once the five minute mark passed in the first half, the Blue Raiders were on their game. Buford had a lot to do with the team’s early success, as he finished with a season-high 20 points and career-high two made three-point shots.
“It’s a hidden secret,” Buford said in a laughing-manner. “I really do work on that shot all the time. My teammates ask my why I don’t shoot as much as I do.”
Buford looked to be a mismatch physically against a smaller Bruins lineup, and he exploited the matchup every chance he could in the post. He had some tough, physical finishes at the rim that propelled the Blue Raiders into the blowout of Belmont.
“I just wanted to come out and be assertive and aggressive on offense, as well on defense,” Buford said.
Jacob Ivory made his first appearance of the season after being injured toward the end of last season, which provided the team with some depth at the guard position. Ivory finished with two points and one rebound in eight minutes on the court.
“He’s [Ivory] been great in practice. I mean if you poll our team and say, ‘who’s the toughest guy’ they would say Jacob Ivory. If you poll our team and said, ‘who’s the best teammate’ they would say Jacob Ivory. It’s good to have that guy back in our gym. He wasn’t in our gym for like three weeks, not even in the gym, so it was just good to have him around our team. I played him and Qua [Copeland] together to just get him some minutes. You could see he got tired, but it was just good to have his smile back in our gym,” Davis said about Ivory’s return.
Another interesting facet to this game: Reggie Upshaw only scored six points in 20 minutes due to early foul trouble. The team didn’t seem to miss a beat with Upshaw not on the floor.
“Good teams can absorb your really good players, like Reggie, getting in foul trouble. He never really got in a great flow. Reggie had four rebounds and six rebounds in 20 minutes, but tonight was kind of Perrin Buford’s night,” Davis said.
Buford led the team in scoring with 20 points and seven total rebounds, while Giddy Potts scored 15 points and Darnell Harris scored 13 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. All in all, the Blue Raiders were able to win the battle on the glass (46-36), they held Belmont to 37 percent shooting for the game, they had 26 points off of turnovers, and they had 40 points in the paint to Belmont’s 24.
The Blue Raiders head to Atlanta, Georgia, on Dec. 22 to take on the 2015 NCAA Tournament “Cinderella” Georgia State (5-2) at 6 p.m.
To contact Sports Editor Connor Ulrey, email email@example.com.