Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (26-4, 16-1) returned home to the Murphy Center tonight and after a slow start, they found their offense behind JaCorey Williams’ 23 points to defeat the FIU Panthers (6-24, 2-15) by a final score of 70-67.
The Blue Raiders struggled mightily out of the gate on both ends and found themselves down 20-1 just minutes into the game. While the offense couldn’t get anything to go at their end, the defense was a bigger struggle as FIU’s Michael Kessens and Eric Nottage scored the first 22 points for the Panthers.
When Middle finally got going on offense, they used 11 first-half points from Williams to cut the lead down to five. FIU got a buzzer-beating three from Nottage to push their halftime lead to 38-30.
The Blue Raiders got off to a much better start in the second half, using a 10-0 run to take their first lead of the game at 48-44.
The Panthers were not phased as they kept the Blue Raiders within single digits. Middle would hold on for the win however, and keep their at-large bid hopes alive.
Blue Raiders overcome huge early deficit
Though they got the win, it was after falling behind 20-1 early in the first half. The offense didn’t make a shot until nearly eight minutes into the game. Head coach Kermit Davis believed that his team simply wasn’t tough enough.
“Physicality goes to both ends,” Davis said. “It equates to putting your nose at the rim and finishing balls around the basket, so it’s both ways.”
McGill fails to crack the scoring column
While backcourt mate Eric Nottage had a big game, FIU’s leading scorer Donte McGill failed to score a single point tonight. After picking up three quick fouls, the senior guard just couldn’t find his rhythm. Coach Davis believed that it was a combination of the foul trouble and Nottage’s hot shooting.
“He got in early foul trouble and couldn’t find his rhythm,” Davis said. “Nottage just took over the game. If someone had told me that McGill wouldn’t score, I would’ve thought the final margin would be more than three.”
For junior guard Giddy Potts, it was pretty simple as to why McGill struggled.
“I played good defense,” Potts said. “He took tough shots.”
MTSU keeps at-large hopes alive
Middle Tennessee avoided what would’ve been considered one of the worst losses of the season by storming back and winning Thursday night. The win also keeps their hopes for an at-large bid alive, in case they lose early in the conference tournament. Coach Davis knew that his team couldn’t afford a loss in the game tonight, especially because of the conference his team is in.
“It’s not like the NFL playoffs where you win your league and you got two games left, so you rest your starters,” Davis said. “Games like these mean so much to us, we get zero mulligans.”
— Darius M. Horton (@_DH9_) March 3, 2017
The Blue Raiders hit the Murphy Center floor for the final time this season Saturday as they take the FAU Owls at 5 p.m.