Photo by Darwin Moore / MTSU Sidelines
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (25-4, 15-1) secured the regular season Conference USA championship today as JaCorey Williams hit a game-winning jumper with four seconds remaining to defeat the UAB Blazers by a score of 66-64.
MT used a sizzling 5-9 start from three to take a 21-12 lead over the Blazers with 10:37 remaining in the first half. Senior forward Xavier Habersham gave the Blue Raiders a big boost by knocking down his first three shots from distance for a team-leading nine first-half points.
After their early hot shooting, it became a game of droughts for the Blue Raiders. MT only managed seven points over the final eight minutes of the first half to take a 32-29 lead into the break.
The game went back and forth for the entirety of the second half, as neither team could take control. MTSU took a 41-36 lead on a Reggie Upshaw layup, before UAB responded with a quick 6-0 run to take the lead right back. After being tied at 61 for nearly two minutes, the Blazers got a late three from Denzell Watts to take a 64-61 lead.
With their backs against the wall, the Blue Raiders turned to their two senior leaders for an answer. Upshaw and Williams answered the call, as Upshaw knocked in a three to tie the game at 64 with 1:46 remaining in the game. After both teams failed to score, Williams knocked down the game-winning jumper to give MT the win and the outright regular season championship.
Blue Raiders struggle with fouls
The win was hard-fought and required everyone to contribute due to foul difficulties. When all was said and done, Middle had seven different players with two or more personal fouls, including four of the five starters. They were able to combat that with 17 points from the bench that helped to mitigate the troubles that left Williams, Tyrik Dixon and Giddy Potts on the bench for extended time.
Habersham continues his hot play
Senior Xavier Habersham closed the three-game road stretch with another solid game, finishing with nine points on three shots from distance. His play early on helped the Raiders silence the UAB crowd and get off to a get start. Over the three games, Habersham averaged 10.3 points a game and made nine threes.
Senior leaders step up
Upshaw and Williams provided the two biggest shots of the day today, as well as most of the offense. With junior Giddy Potts struggling, they combined for 34 of the Blue Raiders 66 points and did it each on efficient shooting. Upshaw finished with 15 points on 8-14 shooting and 3-4 from three, while Williams led the Blue Raiders with 19 points on 7-10 shooting from the floor.
MTSU Final Stats
Final MTSU stats: pic.twitter.com/EBUaJy449q
— Rusty Ellis (@RustyEllis13) February 26, 2017
The Blue Raiders will return to the Murphy Center for the final two games of the regular season, as they play host to the Florida International Panthers on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The game can also be viewed on ESPN3.