Story by Calvin White/Sports Editor
Murfreesboro, TN- On the 50th anniversary of Middle Tennessee State University’s famous Murphy Center, the Chattanooga Mocs (8-3) defeat the Blue Raiders (7-4) 82-73 with blistering outside shooting and dominant post play from Jake Stephens.
Chattanooga led wire-to-wire after jumping out to an early 11-2 lead in the first half in which it started 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. The Blue Raiders slowly clawed their way back from down double digits to trail 47-40 at halftime but could never gain enough momentum.
“You’ve got to credit them,” Middle Tennessee head coach Nick McDevitt said. “It felt like multiple times, it was a one or two possession game and they made a big shot. You cut it two or three or four, and somebody gets loose, and they don’t miss it. I thought we had a couple of opportunities on the reverse, where you’re down two, you’re down three and the big shot, we just didn’t make it.”
The Blue Raiders led in points off turnovers (13-9), points in the paint (38-28), and fast break points (15-0) but the one area it got outplayed was on the offensive glass. Chattanooga pulled down 10 offensive rebounds which led to 15 second chance points whereas MTSU only had six points on six offensive rebounds.
The Mocs outrebounded MTSU by a total of 37-21. The nine-point difference in second chance points proved to be the difference in the game.
Eli Lawrence was a steady contributor for the Blue Raiders in the first half, going 5-for-6 from the floor for 15 first half points. Lawrence ended with a team-leading 21 points. Three other Blue Raiders finished in double figures as Deandre Dishman (16), Camryn Weston (15) and Elias King (12) were all solid contributors.
Not only did McDevitt’s squad have to contend with Chattanooga’s outside shooting, it also had to find a way to contain the Mocs’ big man Jake Stephens. Stephens is one of the unique talents in all of college basketball and is also one of the most efficient.
Stephens is a 7”0’, 275 pound load inside with a 7”10’ wingspan who also shoots it at a 48% clip from 3-point range. Dishman drew the assignment most of the night for the Blue Raiders but for the most part was unsuccessful in defending Stephens. Since Stephens is such a good passer out of the post, the Blue Raiders could not risk double-teaming him and allow him to find open outside shooters.
“He’s so big and he’s such a good passer that if you double him, he’ll just throw it right over the top of you and kick it out to open 3-point shooters,” McDevitt said of Stephens. “Generally that’s when their big runs would start. We wanted to force him to shoot two-pointers.”
Stephens finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists on 8-for-13 from the floor and 7-for-7 from the charity stripe.
The loss ends MTSU’s 20 game home win streak in the Murphy Center, the fourth longest in program history.