Photo by Joi Williams / MTSU Sidelines
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (7-1) defeated their second straight Southeastern Conference team this week, as they took down the Mississippi Rebels (4-4) by a score of 77-58.
The Blue Raider victory is their fifth in a row and is their fourth straight against SEC opponents dating back to last year. Since the start of the 2015-16 season, they are 7-0 against opponents from both the SEC and the Big Ten.
The dominant front court duo of Nick King and Brandon Walters were the highlights of the night for Middle Tennessee, as King scored 25 points and grabbed six rebounds. Not to be outdone, Walters accounted for 20 points, five rebounds, four blocks and four steals.
Ole Miss only saw one player go over the 10 point mark, as Marcanvis Hymon tallied 12 for the Rebels.
The first half was tightly contested, and the Rebels jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the early going. Ole Miss never held a lead of that size for the rest of the game, and MTSU climbed their way back into the game. Giddy Potts hit two three-point jump shots that tied the game at 10-10 with 15:22 to go in the first half.
The Blue Raiders seized momentum and went ahead 26-19 once James Hawthorne found Walters for a lay-up with 8:16 to go in the opening half. Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy called a timeout after the bucket, and his team responded with a run of their own to tie the game at 26.
The Rebels eventually took a 30-28 lead as a result of an 11-2 scoring run. They were led by senior guard Deandre Burnett and Hymon, who combined for nine of those 11 points.
The Rebels carried the first-half advantage to the locker room after Hymon threw down a ferocious two-handed, put-back dunk off of a Burnett miss with eight seconds left to give them a 34-33 lead.
The Rebels showed off their scoring balance and depth in the first half as they had six players score at least five points.
After being held to only two points on 1-6 shooting in the first half, King emerged out of the locker room as a new player. He scored eight points in the first four and a half minutes of the second frame to give the Blue Raiders a 43-36 lead.
Middle Tennessee stretched their lead to 10 following a Tyrik Dixon three-pointer. The Blue Raiders retained their three-to-four-possession lead for another six minutes of game action until the Rebels embarked on a run of their own.
A Markel Crawford assist to Hymon trimmed the deficit from 10 points to four. This made the score 60-56 with 4:44 remaining.
That run was the closest the Rebels got to the lead however, as a Walters jumper and a personal 7-2 scoring run by King extended the Blue Raider advantage to 69-58 with 2:33 left on the clock.
The game was eventually put out of reach and capped off by a Potts three-pointer and a King slam dunk.
When all the dust had settled, the Blue Raiders earned yet another victory over an SEC opponent by a final score of 77-58.
Blue Raiders front court dominates another SEC opponent
For the second straight SEC game, the consistent and reliable front court of King and Walters made their mark. They combined for 45 points and 11 rebounds.
Walters had an outstanding effect for the game on the defensive end, as he blocked four shots and recorded four steals.
“I just had to move my feet, knowing they had big, physical (post players),” Walters said. “I just had to be more physical than them.”
Although King was held to only two points in the first half, his struggles disappeared in the second as he exploded for 23 points.
“I think you have to give Ole Miss credit in the first half. I think we got the ball in Nick’s hands where he can score a lot of buckets,” said head coach Kermit Davis. “They did a good job of verticality and Nick wasn’t able to score over them.”
Davis credited King’s big second half to ball movement to Ole Miss’s defensive adjustments and better offensive scoring angles.
“In the second half, we played against more man-to-man defense and I think (King) got better angles to the rim,” Davis said. “I just think that we shared the ball a lot better in the second half.”
King attributed his impressive second half performance to the play of his teammates
“I know I sound like a broken record, but tonight was all on my teammates,” King said. “(Dixon) found me in the right spots and (Walters) cleared out the lane most of the second half.”
Walters’ 20 points on the night topped his career-high in points in a game, which was set at 16 on Wednesday night in the Blue Raiders win at Vanderbilt. Davis has certainly taken notice of Walters recent improvements.
“He’s just getting better … last year he was second in the country in offensive rebounds per minute, but he would only play about 12 minutes per game and would get in foul trouble a lot,” Davis said. “He wasn’t in the best of shape but since last year, he’s dropped 18 more pounds and is now in great shape.”
“He’s a great player … he’s played behind Reggie Upshaw and JaCorey Williams, and now you’ve really seen him blossom.”
Defense holds high-powered Ole Miss backcourt in check
Coming into the game, Ole Miss had one of the highest-scoring backcourts in all of college basketball, highlighted by guards Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis.
Davis was averaging 17.9 points per game, while Burnett was averaging 15.7. Against MT, Burnett was held to only nine points and Davis to only 10. Six of Davis’ were scored in the first four and a half minutes of the game.
“I feel like we payed good attention to the scouting report,” King said. “We knew they could shoot, but their strength was their ability to be strong right hand drivers. The entire game, we just got on the right side (of the ball) and tried to take a lot of charges.”
The explosive Rebel offense was held to only two points and committed three turnovers in the final 4:19 of the game. Before Saturday night’s game, the Rebels averaged over 83.7 points per game as a team and had not scored less than 74 points in any of their games this season.
Tyrik Dixon returns to the starting lineup and makes an impact
After playing only six minutes against Vanderbilt due to a bone bruise in his knee, Tyrik Dixon returned to the starting lineup on Saturday night. Dixon’s presence was felt as he recorded a career high nine assists and did not commit a single turnover, as well as grabbing five rebounds to go along with five points.
Dixon credited his teammates for getting open and finding gaps in Ole Miss’s zone defenses.
“It starts with my teammates. They were getting open for me to find them with the pass,” Dixon said. “We just ran what coach wanted us to run.”
The Blue Raiders hit the road next weekend as they travel to take on their third and final SEC foe of the season when they face the Auburn Tigers in Birmingham, Alabama at 5 p.m.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3.
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