The Blue Raiders 2015–16 campaign is a tough act to follow, but if November is any indication, the 2016–17 season might be even more impressive.
The Blue Raiders tipped-off their season with a midday homestand against Milligan College. As suspected, it was not much of a contest.
Middle had five players score in double figures on the game, including 21 each from senior forwards Reggie Upshaw and JaCorey Williams. Upshaw also added 13 rebounds, and junior guard Giddy Potts led all players with seven assists. The Blue Raiders broke the century mark on their way to a 102–64 victory.
The Blue Raiders next got a revenge game against former OVC rival Murray State. The Racers bested the Blue Raiders in last season’s opener by 76–65, but things turned out differently this time.
The Blue Raiders dominated the paint on offense as they outscored the Racers 42–24, and Williams’ team-leading 22 points played a big part in that. They also proved to be the much deeper team as the MT bench outscored Murray’s 26–2 on the strength of Xavier Habersham’s 12 points.
Potts scored 16 points to go along with his team-leading nine rebounds, and Upshaw chipped in 15 points and 8 boards. The Blue Raiders won 87–81.
Middle next welcomed in-state rival Tennessee State to the Murphy Center, but things did not turn out as Blue Raiders fans expected.
Middle led for most of the game, but could never put the Tigers away. The Tigers then sparked a 19–3 run about midway through the second half to take a lead they would never relinquish.
The Blue Raiders were out-rebounded 36–25, and they shot a dismal 36 percent from the free throw line. Considering this, it was no surprise that Middle dropped this one 74–63.
MT had to recover quickly from that loss, as they hosted Toledo just three days later. On the strength of 11 steals, Middle won the turnover battle 14–8, and capitalized on them for 22 points.
“We definitely depend on our zone to create steals and get us going in transition,” said Upshaw. “Whenever you can get out on the break and create those fast break opportunities and create dunks for yourself and your teammates, it gives our team a lot of momentum and it gets our crowd going.”
Williams again led all scorers with 18 points while Upshaw contributed 16 of his own. True freshman Tyrik Dixon scored the first basket of his collegiate career, and then followed it up with four more to finish the night with 11 points. The Blue Raiders topped the Rockets 80–70.
MTSU returned to action the day after Thanksgiving to compete in the Challenge in Music City. The Blue Raiders swept the competition in the three-game tourney, which included UNC-Wilmington, Toledo (again) and Evansville.
Williams was named tournament MVP on the strength of his 24 points per game. He also averaged 7.3 rebounds per contest.
Potts, who averaged 17.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and four assists per game, was named to the all-tournament team.
The Blue Raiders wrapped up the month with a road trip to Oxford, Miss., to play Ole Miss, and everything was clicking early for MT.
Middle shot 57 percent from the field in the first half, and 9 of 11 from beyond the arc. The hot shooting found MT with a dominating 48–19 lead at the half. Although Ole Miss heavily outscored the Blue Raiders in the second half, the damage was too much for the Rebels to overcome.
Potts led all scorers with 20 points while shooting 4 of 6 from the three. Upshaw fell just shy of a triple-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
At the end of the first month of the 2016–17 season, the Blue Raiders sit at 7–1. Williams leads the team in scoring, averaging 20.1 per game, despite playing only the fourth most minutes on the team. He also leads the nation in made 2-point field goals and 2-point field goal attempts.
Potts and Upshaw each are averaging just over 14 points per game. Upshaw also leads the team in rebounds and assists, averaging 6.9 and 3.8 respectively.
The Blue Raiders will have a handful of challenges in December. They will face Vanderbilt, who achieved a dominating victory over TSU. They also will get revenge games against VCU and Georgia State, each of whom defeated MT last season.