The historical achievement of the Blue Raiders from last March has been well documented. It has earned them respect not only with local fans, but with national members of the press. However, it may not have earned them due respect with the coaches of their own conference. Despite those accomplishments from last March’s historic upset, Conference USA coaches voted UAB as the favorite to win the conference, though the Blue Raider roster, even in the off-season, appeared to gain more than it had lost.
Although Coach Kermit Davis would probably be reluctant to say so, January has been a month of reckoning for the Blue Raiders, and they got the opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong immediately, as MT opened their conference schedule against the Blazers.
The Blue Raiders held UAB to their lowest point total since 2014, and Reggie Upshaw made a statement with a career high 34 points. Upshaw also added nine rebounds and four steals to his stat line in the MTSU victory.
The Blue Raiders next took a two-game road trip to play Rice and North Texas, and though it is said “you don’t mess with Texas,” JaCorey Williams did just that.
In what was a closer-than-expected game, Williams had 19 points, four rebounds, five assists and a block in a 80–77 squeaker against Rice. Williams then followed that up with 16 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in a 79–68 win against North Texas.
Williams’ strong play followed him home against Marshall, as he recorded 16 points and 11 rebounds. This game also marked the breakout performance of freshman point guard Tyrik Dixon, whose 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists helped the Blue Raiders to a 69–57 win.
A road trip to Florida added another two wins to MT’s conference wins column. Williams was a standout versus FIU with 21 points and eight rebounds in a 65–52 win.
Against FAU, no scorer stood out much from the others. Though Potts led the way with 17 points, four Blue Raiders scored in double figures, while eight of them contributed at least five points. Potts, Williams and Dixon each also recorded three steals on their way to a dominating 86–57 victory.
The Blue Raiders returned to Murphy Center to play a struggling Southern Miss team who actually were able to keep things close early on. The Golden Eagles were determined to prevent Williams and Upshaw from dominating, which had Middle out of rhythm early. Through the first 13 minutes of the game, MT shot only 35 percent from the field. However, once the Blue Raiders realized the defense was sagging off their other shooters, it was bombs away.
“I guess they didn’t know I can shoot,” said Potts, who hit three of MT’s 11 three-pointers.
But it was Dixon who led the way for the Blue Raiders in scoring. Not only did he hit three shots from beyond the arc as well, he also exploited the sagging defense via mid-range jumpers.
MT closed out their January schedule against Louisiana Tech. Though the Bulldogs gained a sizable lead on the strength of a 16–0 run early in the first half, the Blue Raiders narrowed the deficit to four by halftime. The second half went much more in MT’s favor as they outscored LA Tech 43-29.
The Blue Raiders clinched their ninth conference win in as many games with a score of 71–61. Williams again posted a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Potts and Upshaw nearly joined him, as Potts had 17 points and seven rebounds, and Upshaw had 14 and nine.
This marks the best start to a conference schedule for the Blue Raiders since the 2011–12 season.
When asked if he felt his team could run the table in the conference schedule, Coach Davis replied, “If I had to take a guess, I’d say no. It just doesn’t happen in college basketball.”
Upshaw seemed a little more confident, “I think we can. Some of the tougher teams in the conference have to come here to play, so that will definitely help us. All we have to do is keep the momentum going, prepare the right way and have a focused mindset, and I think we could go undefeated in the conference.”