Story by Calvin White / Contributing Writer
Frisco, Texas – Deandre Dishman and Eli Lawrence were key pieces in MTSU’s 66-59 overtime win over the UTEP Miners as the men’s basketball team began conference tournament play.
“You can just feel the difference in postseason play,” Blue Raider head coach Nick McDevitt said. “The intensity of every possession. There’s just a different feel. As soon as our guys walked into the arena tonight you could feel it. There’s two games going on and you can just watch the intensity by both teams on both courts on both ends of the floor. I thought our guys stepped up to that level as well.”
Lawrence finished with 19 points and seven rebounds on 6-12 shooting. Every time it felt like UTEP was starting to gain some momentum in the second half, Lawrence answered with a basket of his own.
“He was huge,” McDevitt said. “That’s what you need this time of year is somebody that has been in tournament play. He’s been in college basketball three or four years and looked like it out there.”
Dishman finished with 18 points and seven rebounds on 7-13 shooting while anchoring the defense in the middle. UTEP is not a great rebounding team and does not have a very physical post presence so Dishman had to cash in on his opportunities down low.
“It’s very satisfying especially when you’re missing an elite scorer like Josh Jefferson,” Dishman said. “I took a few more shots than I usually take and I was able to knock them in. It’s very uplifting for the team and myself.”
The Blue Raiders held one of the conference’s top scorers, Souley Boum, to just 12 points on 5-17 shooting with Boum playing all 45 minutes of the game.
“You’re going to have to throw multiple bodies at a guy like that,” McDevitt said. “He’s a tough guy to handle. We knew that going into the game at our place a couple weeks ago and knew that we had to be on point with him. They run a lot of actions to get him clean looks and having to run and chase guys like that, it’s hard.”
Dishman relished in the moment. With the Blue Raiders headed to a semifinal game, he wanted to remind everyone in the postgame press conference that Middle Tennessee was picked to finish last in the conference preseason poll.
“It’s exciting,” Dishman said. “The biggest part of it is knowing that we were picked last so even where we’re at now is a big accomplishment so to keep moving forward and advance is just great for us and a great feeling.”
There’s no shortcut to winning games in March and in postseason play. McDevitt’s squad’s ability to execute and fight helped them power past the Miners.
“I thought our guys just really stuck together,” McDevitt said. “There weren’t panic plays defensively, gambling for steals, taking flyers on the offensive end as far as shots go. I thought we just continued to execute and found a way to get a big stop.”
The Blue Raiders advanced to take on UAB Friday at 2:00 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network. The winner will take on the winner of the other semifinal matchup between Louisiana Tech and North Texas State. The championship game will be held Saturday at 7:30 p.m.