Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (18-3, 8-0) returned to the friendly confines of the Murphy Center Thursday night to take on the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (6-14, 3-5). After a slow start on offense, the Blue Raiders reeled off a quick 10-0 scoring run early and ended up with a 72-56 victory.
Though they came in as 20.5 point favorites, the Raiders started off slow from the perimeter by making only two of their first 12 shots from three. The defense struggled as well, as the Eagles shot around 71 percent from the floor for the first part of the opening half and held an 18-16 lead with less than eight minutes left in the first half.
Freshman point guard Tyrik Dixon sparked the Blue Raiders’ offense in the first half by knocking down six of his first nine shots for 14 first-half points.
MTSU used a quick 10-0 scoring run to build an eight-point lead. Outside shooting fueled the run as Giddy Potts, Reggie Upshaw and Xavier Habersham hit three consecutive threes to lead the team into half with a 37-23 lead.
The second half started very similar to the first as MTSU struggled to score the ball. Their defense held up, however, and when the shots started falling, USM was never able to get any closer than nine points as the Blue Raiders stretched the lead as far as 21. When all was said and done, the Raiders closed out the Eagles by 16 points to stretch their winning streak to eight games.
Dixon led the way for the Blue Raiders with a career-high 21 points while only turning the ball over twice. Giddy Potts added 19 points with three makes from distance and eight rebounds. Reggie Upshaw contributed 12 points of his own. The team’s season leading scorer, JaCorey Williams, was held in check tonight, only scoring four points on 2-of-5 shooting.
Dixon’s great playing has only gotten better as the conference season has moved along. Head coach Kermit Davis isn’t surprised by his increased production, simply because his point guard has been one of the hardest workers in practice.
“I think it’s just being a freshman,” Coach Davis said of his point guard’s start to the year. “He’s trying to fit in and now what happens, those scorers are giving him some opportunities…through the whole way, he’s had really good toughness.”
The defense was key tonight and even with the slow start, the Blue Raiders held the Golden Eagles to 41.7 percent shooting from the floor. Upshaw said that the bench energy was key to their defensive improvement.
“I think it started when Aldonis [Foote] came in. He got on the floor, got a loose ball and from there, we started being more aggressive,” Upshaw said. “We forced them to take tough shots. From there, we got out on the break and that’s how the tide changed.”
The Blue Raiders are now 8-0 in Conference USA play and with every passing game, the thought of running the table in conference grows more and more. It’s a thought that coach Davis tries to not concern himself with.
“I have no idea about that. If I could take a guess, no,” Davis said. “It just doesn’t happen in college basketball.”
The Blue Raiders will hit the practice court tomorrow before a crucial game in the Murphy Center against Louisiana Tech on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m.