Story by Elisha Nelson / Contributing Writer
The Middle Tennessee men’s basketball team are just a game behind first place in the Conference USA East division after being boosted to a 84-75 victory by their season-leading scorer Josh Jefferson, who led the team with 18 points in a dominant showing on Monday night.
The Blue Raiders (15-7, 6-3 C-USA) improve to 10-0 at home as they continue their undefeated streak playing in the Murphy Center. Though dominant on the scoreboard, much of the first half was back and forth, with UTSA (8-17, 1-11 C-USA) keeping the game within a single score with just minutes to go in the first half.
Another loss on the road continues a poor streak for UTSA, who have won just 2 of their last 15 games. The Roadrunners brought the game within 5 points in the final 36 seconds thanks to a standout performance from guard Jordan Ivy-Curry, who racked up 19 points on the night. The effort fell short from surmounting the second half slump.
The successful night for the Blue Raiders was possible because of a great second half effort, where the offense caught its momentum and ran with it. Middle Tennessee came out firing, making 8 shot attempts in a row, allowing them to build to a 19-point lead at one point.
Eli Lawrence sparked the Raiders offense after the break, getting a steal to start the half and coasting for a layup on the fast break. After UTSA gained possession Lawrence again ripped the ball away from a Roadrunner, leading to a massive dunk on the fast break score and a swing of momentum for the Blue Raiders offense.
Starting forward Deandre Dishman had a big night in the Murphy Center, inspiring the 17-6 run to begin the second half. The junior gave UTSA much trouble in the paint throughout the night, grabbing 5 rebounds to go with 18 points and most of them coming from the Blue Raiders second half effort.
Head Coach Nick McDevitt took notice of the late game slip up after relinquishing their double-digit lead. “We had a nice stretch in the second half. We built a 19-point lead and I thought we got a little sloppy. We gave up a couple easies in transition the other way and had a couple turnovers late when we were up big.” Coach McDevitt showed pride in his team’s resiliency though, after closing out the game with clutch free-throws to fend off the Roadrunners. “I thought we stayed tough here to make some free throws down the stretch which sealed it for us.”
A strong shooting performance from the free throw line helped the Raiders in their 84-point effort, shooting 86% from the line on 22 attempts. An efficient effort from the field didn’t hurt MTSU’s chances either, draining 53% of their shots to UTSA’s 43%.
“When they went on a run late, we didn’t get rattled, that could cost you the game. That’s a good sign, and as the season goes on that’s going to be key for us.”