Story by Calvin White / Contributing Writer
An electric Murphy Center crowd helped the Blue Raiders cruise past UTEP 77-59 for their 15th straight home win and 20th overall on the season.
Middle Tennessee had five players score at least nine points, and Donovan Sims led the way with 17 points on 70 percent shooting. UTEP was held to just 36 percent shooting from the field as well as just 22 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
“I was really proud of our team,” head coach Nick McDevitt said. “UTEP, they’re tough, they’re physical, they play really hard. We told our guys that you’re going to have to match their physicality. I thought our team just showed a lot of toughness and togetherness, different guys stepping up.”
Bench play was key for the Blue Raiders, providing 26 points. Camryn Weston led the team in +/-, rebounds, and assists while making eight of nine free throws en route to 12 points. Weston played a vital role in getting the UTEP bigs in foul trouble by attacking the basket early.
“One of my best traits, I’d say, is attacking the rim and drawing fouls,” Weston said. “If the lane is open, I’m going to attack it, try to get there and finish. Obviously I got fouled today, so I had to make the free throws.”
MT outrebounded the Miners 40-26 and also outscored them in second chance points 12-1, points in the paint26-18, and fast break points 26-13.
The Blue Raiders held a 43-30 lead at halftime while holding UTEP to just 34 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc while shooting 53 percent from the floor and 50 percent from beyond the arc.
The second half resembled the first for the Miners. UTEP shot just 20 percent from 3-point range on their way to being outscored 34-29 by the Blue Raiders. Josh Jefferson scored 10 second half points to pace Middle Tennessee to victory.
The Blue Raiders reach 20 wins in a season for the first time since 2018 and the Murphy Center crowd played a vital role in that.
“When the crowd is in, we’re all in it,” Weston said. “It just makes a big difference.”
The Blue Raiders’ magic number is down to one. Which means that one Blue Raider win or a loss each by Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic would mean that MT’s worst possible finish to the regular season would be a tie for the top spot in the C-USA East Division.
Middle Tennessee takes on Marshall Thursday at 6:00 p.m. C.T. in the Murphy Center.