Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
It certainly was not pretty, but the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (10-4, 2-0) escaped a hard-fought game against Conference USA foe Florida International (7-8, 1-1) with a win in overtime by a final score of 71-66.
Both teams started the game slow, as they committed a multitude of turnovers and generated very little offense for an uneventful first 10 minutes of game action.
Midway through the first half, both teams combined for only 18 points and 11 turnovers. The sloppy start played into the hands of the Panthers, as they held a 12-6 advantage after the game’s first 10 minutes.
The pace of play picked up a little bit before the break, but FIU maintained the lead for over 14 minutes in the first half. They led by as many as seven following a made basket from Brian Beard Jr.
The Blue Raiders started to overcome the early deficit and by the halftime break, they cut it down to four by a score of 26-22.
The second half for Middle Tennessee started off similar to the first. After only 91 seconds, the Golden Panthers took their largest lead of the game at 31-22 after Trejon Jacob connected on one of his two three-pointers.
The Blue Raiders inched back into the game slowly but surely until senior Giddy Potts knocked down one of his three three-pointers to tie the contest at 39 with 12:28 remaining.
FIU survived the MTSU run and kept them from pulling away late however, as the final minute of regulation was a seesaw battle.
Middle Tennessee took a 58-56 lead on a Brandon Walters layup with 1:11 remaining in the game. On the following possession, Beard Jr. turned the ball over right back to the Blue Raiders who had one more chance to put the game out of reach.
MTSU failed to do so, as FIU stole the ball away from Walters to give the Panthers another shot at tying the game up or taking the lead.
With 13 seconds remaining in the game, senior Ed Simpson fouled Beard Jr. to send him to the free throw line. He calmly sink both to tie the game up with 13 seconds left.
The Blue Raiders had one last chance to win the game in regulation, and their fate rested in the jump-shooting hands of Potts. Potts dribbled the clock down to two seconds when he missed a pull-up jumper from about 20 feet away, sending the game into overtime.
In the overtime period, the Blue Raiders used their experience, poise and seven big points by senior Nick King to pull through.
FIU got the scoring started, as Elhadji Dieng split a pair of free throws to give the Golden Panthers a one-point lead. A pair of free throws by Beard Jr. pushed that lead up to three with 4:02 left.
Not done yet, a David Simmons jumper and a King lay-up gave the Blue Raiders their first lead of the overtime period by a score of 62-61 with 2:15 left.
An old fashioned three-point play by King pushed the MT lead to five with a little under a minute left on the clock. The Golden Panthers got close, but could not regain the lead as Potts drilled two free throws with three seconds left to put the game out of reach in a 71-66 MTSU victory.
Walters, Simmons provide big minutes off the bench
The MT bench unit proved to play a pivotal role in Thursday nights’ matchup.
With junior Karl Gamble in the starting lineup for the second straight game, Walters provided some valuable minutes, as he scored 12 points on 5-10 shooting from the field. He also grabbed seven rebounds in 31 minutes.
Simmons also provided a spark off the bench with his defensive effort and scoring ability off the dribble. During Simmons’ 28 minutes off of the bench, he scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting. He also added five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Even though the Blue Raiders seemed to struggle throughout the game, Simmons provided a spark with his effort and ubiquitous presence on the floor.
Potts, King lead the way in scoring once more
King struggled at times during the game but when it counted in overtime, he scored seven of his teams’ 13 points to help secure the victory for the Blue Raiders.
King finished with a solid stat-line, recording 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Potts’ continued his hot shooting from three-point range on Thursday night. Since the Ole Miss game on Dec. 9, Potts has shot 54 percent from beyond the arc and against FIU, he continued his hot shooting performance. Potts was 3-6 from three point range and was also able to score from other places on the floor as well, shooting 9-15 from the floor.
The hot-shooting senior from Athens, Ala. scored a game-high 25 points, which is also Potts’ season-high.
The Blue Raiders will remain in the state of Florida as they conclude their road trip in Boca Raton on Saturday to take on Florida Atlantic (6-8, 0-2). The tip is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3.
To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email firstname.lastname@example.org.