Photo courtesy of MT Athletics
The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders’ (11-21, 8-11) 2018-19 season came to an end by way of the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (19-13, 11-8) on Wednesday night in the Conference USA Tournament. MTSU traveled to Frisco, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys training facility but fell in their first and only game of the tournament, 70-61, to UAB after being the last seed (12) in.
MTSU came into the game winning six of their last 10 games and three of their last four.
The Blue Raiders started hot with Donovan Sims hitting multiple 3-pointers. He had a quick 9 points, and senior Karl Gamble was able to do work on both ends of the floor. One Blue Raider star who was not on his game was Antonio Green. Green perhaps had his worst game of the season at the most inopportune time. Green couldn’t buy a bucket and was sloppy with his passing and ball-handling, which led to turnovers on the offensive end.
The Blazers lead scorer, Zack Bryant, did not start the game and came off the bench. That did not stop him from contributing however. Bryant was able to hit big time 3-pointers to give UAB the lead, along with Lewis Sullivan doing work in the paint.
The Blue Raiders lost control of the lead in the first, but were able to snap their dry spell and fight back to hold a one point lead going into halftime. Sims and Gamble combined for 25 of the team’s 34 points.
Coming out of the break, MTSU was ice cold from the floor. They went scoreless for nearly five minutes and couldn’t attack the interior of the Blazers defense. On the defensive end, the Blue Raiders couldn’t prevent UAB from getting into the paint, and the Blazers were able to draw contact and receive foul shots nearly every time down the floor.
Just when a comeback seemed bleak, MTSU was able to put together a run with under five minutes to go. The Blue Raiders cut the deficit from 15 down to five. However, the Blazers sank a 3-point dagger with just over two minutes to play and extend their lead to eight. Ultimately, time ran out for the Blue Raiders, and they fell to the Blazers 70-61.
Green had his most underwhelming performance of the season, going 2-17 from the field. The C-USA Newcomer of the Year, who averaged nearly 19 points a game, only squandered out an abysmal 5 points. Gamble and Sims were the only players to reach double figures, and the Blue Raider bench scored just 4 points on the night.
The biggest factor was points from the stripe. The Blazers amassed 17 of their 70 points from the free-throw line, which was more than the other three Blue Raider starters combined outside of Sims and Gamble.
After a rough start to the season that included a 13-game losing streak, the Blue Raiders regrouped and put together a nice second half of their season. McDevitt was able to flip a switch in Sims that allowed him to play more aggressive throughout the season, and it showed in this matchup, as he was the game’s leading scorer.
McDevitt and the Blue Raiders will return in the fall of 2019 for their next season. The Blue Raiders will return four of their five starters in Sims, Green, Jayce Johnson and Reggie Scurry.
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