Thursday, September 28, 2023

Middle Tennessee wins thriller in-state matchup


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Story by Calvin White/Sports Editor

Nashville- Middle Tennessee men’s basketball (7-3) used a stellar performance from Teafale Lenard Jr. to propel itself to an 85-75 win over the Belmont Bruins (6-5) in an in-state matchup in Nashville at the Curb Event Center on Saturday.

“I am really proud of our team,” Middle Tennessee head coach Nick McDevitt said. “I thought our guys stayed mentally tough. I liked what they were saying to each other in the huddle in between the regulation and overtime but to believe that and go out and do it shows a lot of mental toughness.”

Lenard Jr. stuffed the stat sheet, tallying 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting, eight rebounds, six blocks, and three steals. His six blocks were a part of the 13 total that the Blue Raiders swatted, setting a new program record for blocks in a single game.

‘That’s naturally me,” Lenard Jr. said. “I like to go for blocks and steals but it’s about the timing of the blocks and steals. My mindset was I have to go get it or they’re going to get a bucket.”

For the first couple minutes of the game, the Bruins were double-teaming Blue Raider big man Deandre Dishman in the post every time he caught the ball. Dishman battled through those double-teams all night by using his array of post moves and driving to the basket from the top of the key to finish with a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Dishman and a plethora of other Blue Raiders combined to score a staggering 50 points in the paint compared to Belmont’s 14.

“I was seeing that they wanted to double-team out of the post,” Dishman said. “We had guys cut and I got an early one. We started running some screens and it allowed me to get downhill and I knew their bigs had slower feet so I was able to use my body and absorb contact and finish through it.”

In the second half, Belmont’s Ben Sheppard took over the game. Sheppard knocked down four 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the second half. It did not matter if he was open or if two Blue Raiders had their hands in his face, Sheppard was unconscious from deep. He finished with 33 of the Bruins’ 75 total points on 10-for-18 shooting, including 8-for-11 from beyond the arc.

In the final moments of regulation, Middle Tennessee held a one-point lead and Belmont had possession. Lenard Jr. drew a charge to regain possession for Middle Tennessee. The Bruins fouled Camryn Weston who knocked down two free throws to extend MTSU’s lead to three with two seconds remaining.

Belmont head coach Casey Alexander drew up a final play for his sharpshooter. Sheppard caught the inbound pass and took a few dribbles to his right and drilled an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime.

Despite their relentless effort the entire game, Belmont went cold in the overtime period. The Bruins shot just 1-for-9 from the floor and Middle Tennessee outscored them 15-5. “I really felt like we were just trying to survive the whole second half,” Alexander said. “It was men against boys in a lot of ways and that’s what the stats reflect as wel

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