After stumbling out of the gates early in the 2014–15 season, and playing up and down throughout their conference schedule, the Blue Raiders finished the season strong. Although their regular season performance only earned them a sixth seed in the Conference USA tournament, MT upset two higher ranked opponents on their way to becoming runners-up of the conference tourney.
“This time last year we were all out of sorts. We had 10 new players, we didn’t trust each other, our leadership wasn’t great, and then we dove in to a really hard schedule. I kind of knew what was coming, but I don’t think our players did and we learned some really hard lessons,” Head coach Kermit Davis stated. “To give them some credit, this may be one of the most improved teams I ever coached.”
And it should be no surprise to see improvement in this team from last season. Instead of bringing in 10 new players, they are returning four starters from last season. Three other players who were major contributors will also be returning.
Among that trio is Darnell Harris, who averaged as many minutes per game last year as returning starters Perrin Buford and Giddy Potts. When speaking of Harris, Davis stated that his contribution from last season was really like bringing back five starters. Davis also praised Harris’ improved conditioning, and said he is “as good as any three point shooter in (C-USA).”
Jacob Ivory and Joshua Phillips are the other two returning key players from last season. Both players missed significant time last season due to injury, but both have fought back hard to show considerable improvement in the off-season. Davis even went as far as to call Phillips the team’s most improved player.
Speaking of improvement, Davis had plenty of praise for Perrin Buford also.
“He’s our best player right now, you can ask anyone on our team. I don’t know if I’ve had one guy transform himself in a year the way Perrin Buford has. His leadership skills are terrific, his toughness is terrific. I’m so proud of Perrin,” Davis said.
That is a big statement considering that Reggie Upshaw was selected to the preseason All-Conference USA first team. Upshaw averaged 10 points and seven rebounds per game last season, and coach Davis expects bigger production from him this season.
The story of the upcoming season isn’t just about the returning players, though. Coach Davis thinks MT is deep enough to rotate 10 players this season, and a big part of that is expected to be true freshman Karl Gamble.
“Karl Gamble may be the best freshman we’ve ever had here. He’s just good. He’s got great basketball IQ, he’s got as good of hands of any young kid we’ve had here, he’s got a good motor, he’s a great kid. He’s going to be terrific.”
Last year broke a three-season streak of 20+ wins. MT will see if they can get the streak going again against a schedule that includes the likes of VCU, Auburn and Belmont. The Blue Raiders will also participate in this year’s GCI Great Alaska Shootout. Most importantly, MT will return to a two-game series against rival WKU. It is sure to be an entertaining season.
The Blue Raiders will play their first exhibition game Nov. 12 against Faulkner University, and will tip-off the regular season in an away game against Murray State on Nov. 17.