Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
A game that was supposed to be remembered as the last home game for four Middle Tennessee (24-6, 16-2) seniors will go down as a crushing upset, as they were defeated by the Marshall Thundering Herd (21-10, 12-6) for the second time this season by a score of 76-67.
It looked as if the Blue Raiders would run away with this game, as they got off to another fast start after senior Brandon Walters threw down a slam dunk on the team’s first possession. The Herd wouldn’t hesitate to respond, however, and Conference USA leading scorer Jon Elmore hit the first of two three-pointers on the next possession to take back the lead.
Later in the first half, Marshall made the first of one of their multiple scoring outbursts of the game and built a seven-point lead following another Elmore three-pointer from the corner.
The Blue Raiders inched closer and cut some of the deficit before the half on the strength of a quick four-point scoring run to cut the deficit to 36-33 at halftime.
Middle Tennessee found some ways to regain the lead in the second frame, but for the most part, they spent most of the half playing catch-up. After being down four points early, senior Giddy Potts connected on a long two-point jumper and Johnson scored on another tough drive to tie things up.
Potts got the crowd back into the game when he knocked down another long two-point jump shot to give them their first lead of the final frame.
Like all of the other leads they experienced, this one did not last very long. A quick C.J. Burks three-pointer gave Marshall another lead and the momentum.
Both teams swapped baskets and exchanged leads until Marshall finally pulled away in the end. A Nick King layup cut the deficit to one point with a little more than four minutes remaining, but it never got closer for MT. The Thundering Herd got several key stops late in the game and converted on most of their free throws to seal the game, eventually winning by a score of 76-67.
Marshall gets the best of MTSU for the second time this season
The Blue Raiders only have two losses in conference play this season, both of which have come at the hands of Marshall. The two teams met earlier in the season on Jan. 18 in Huntington, West Virginia, and the Herd won by a score of 73-63.
“Marshall’s proven they’re better than us,” said Head Coach Kermit Davis. “We’re better than every other team in the league, but not Marshall.”
Marshall won the game on Saturday night in a different type of fashion than how they usually beat opponents, by rebounding and defense.
The Thundering Herd have one of the best scoring and shooting offenses and in the country, but one of the worst defenses as well. Despite ranking 326th out of 351 NCAA teams in total defense, Marshall held MTSU to only 67 points on 41 percent shooting, including 22 percent from the three-point line.
On offense, the Thundering Herd were limited to only 4-22 shooting from three-point range, which has been their biggest advantage over teams all season long. They still managed to come away with the victory. One possible explanation could be the dominance of their interior defense, as well as their 39-34 rebounding advantage.
Free throws haunt Blue Raiders
Simply put, not many teams shoot 50 percent from the free throw line in college basketball and win close games. For the Blue Raiders, this turned out to be the case.
“13-26 from the line is ridiculous,” Davis said. “It kills you.”
For King, it was the worst free throw shooting performance of the season, as he shot 3-11 from the line. Though it may not be the only reason, missing his first three attempts might have been what led to the poor shooting.
“Mental things can get to players,” King said. “I have to be a lot stronger than that … just think about the next shot and forget about the last shot.”
Four Blue Raiders play final game at Murphy Center
Four Blue Raiders where honored before the game for senior night. Potts, Ed Simpson, Walters and King all made their final appearance in the starting lineup in the Glass House for their careers.
“They (seniors) have been unbelievable,” Davis said. “We wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are without them.”
Former point guard Jacob Ivory was also honored before the game. Ivory was part of the same recruiting class as Potts and Simpson, but his career was cut short due to concussions at the end of the 2015-2016 season.
The Blue Raiders will travel to Frisco, Texas for the C-USA tournament. MTSU will be the one-seed and will play on Thursday, Mar. 8, against the winner of Florida International and Southern Miss.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3.
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