Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
When the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (30-4) started their season, one of their main goals was to show that last season’s stunning victory over Michigan State wasn’t a fluke. Of everyone on the team, redshirt senior JaCorey Williams was ready to make an impact and lead the team to a better season.
Williams got off to a quick start this year, scoring 21 points in the opener against Milligan college. Even with that great performance, the senior knew that he would have to be in better shape for his team to be successful.
“I have to be in better game shape,” Williams said after the opener. “I was gassed at the first media timeout but once I caught my second win, I was okay.”
He continued his torrid play in the Challenge in Music City when he showed off everything in his arsenal. In a 73-70 overtime win against Toledo, Williams scored a game-high 31 points and grabbed seven boards to lead the Blue Raiders to victory. Williams followed that up with a superb 25-point, 10-rebound performance in a win over Evansville.
Williams’ best moment of the year came at a time when the team need him the most. In a tie game on the road against the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers, the senior knocked down his signature top-of-the-key jumper with four seconds remaining to give MTSU the victory. It ended a three-game road stretch in which the Blue Raiders won all three games, something that might not have happened if not for Williams’ heroics.
In the only season in which Williams suited up, he did everything from scoring to rebounding to blocking shots and more. He led the team in points scored (588), scoring average (17.3 ppg), rebounding (7.3) and field goal percentage (.541 percent). This was enough to land him on the Conference USA all-conference First Team.
The accolades didn’t end there for the Birmingham native however, as he won both the Newcomer and Player of the year awards. While he prepared intensely during the summer leading up to the season, Williams admits that he still surprises himself sometimes.
“I just tried to put in as much work as I could in the summertime so I could help [Reggie and Giddy] out. I didn’t really see myself helping this much,” Williams said. “I just tried to do whatever I could.”
This season is really gratifying for Williams, as he had to sit out the Blue Raiders magical 2016 postseason run due to NCAA transfer rules. All he could think about was doing what he could to help this team get better.
“I sat on the sidelines a long time last year to watch my team do what they had to do to win the conference championship,” Williams said. “I was sitting there thinking about how I could come in and help Reggie and Giddy because they were the main guys coming back.”
After Saturday’s win over Marshall, the Blue Raiders are headed back to the NCAA Tournament and while there are still games to play, Williams can finally enjoy the fact that his team just won the Conference USA Tournament Championship in his hometown.
“I’m very satisfied…I just thank [Reggie and Giddy] and Coach Davis and the athletic director for giving me a chance to be a Blue Raider,” Williams said. “What a better feeling than to get a championship in Birmingham.”