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Blue Raiders Clinch Regular Season C-USA Title, But Probably Need Tourney Win to Qualify for the Big Dance

The Blue Raiders got off to a hot start in conference play in January, but February is the month tournament résumés are built.

MT started off the month making a Texas road trip, with the first stop being in San Antonio to take on the UTSA Roadrunners.

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Williams

The game started a bit slow and sloppy, as each team struggled through lengthy scoring droughts. However, Giddy Potts did surpass the 1,000-point milestone, becoming just the 33rd player in Blue Raider basketball history to score as many in a career.

The Blue Raiders went into the locker room at halftime trailing 25–23, but the second half would be a much different story. Middle scored 46 points in the second half, while holding UTSA to only 34, clinching a 69–59 victory.

Potts led all scorers with 22 in only 23 minutes of playing time, while JaCorey Williams produced a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

The win in San Antonio stretched MTSU’s win streak to 10, but they ran into a wall on their trip to the border against Texas-El Paso.

The Blue Raiders got off to a strong start as they jumped out to a 27–16 lead at the half. However, the Miners caught fire in the second half. UTEP shot 63 percent in the second half as they outscored Middle 41–27.

Only two Blue Raiders, Williams and Brandon Walters, scored in double figures in the game. Walters scored 10 and Williams notched another double-double with 24 and 10 rebounds. Reggie Upshaw went scoreless before fouling out after only 23 minutes of playing time.

Upshaw and company looked to bounce back when they returned home to face Old Dominion, and bounce back they did.

The game marked Upshaw’s 129th game appearance, a new school record. Befittingly, Upshaw led the way for the Blue Raiders with 18 points. Middle held ODU to just 27 percent shooting in the first half as it was their defensive effort that claimed the 64–51 victory.

Upshaw

Upshaw

 

In their next contest against Charlotte, MT got off to a slow start as they fell behind 12–4 early. However, the Blue Raiders turned things around quickly and closed the first half with a comfortable 33–24 lead. JaCorey Williams scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half to help close out the 70–55 victory. William also added 10 rebounds to record yet another double-double.

Middle then went on a road trip, starting with bitter rival WKU.

Upshaw recorded his 106th career start against the Hilltoppers, setting a new Blue Raider basketball record. In a game that was never in doubt, Upshaw posted a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds. Williams also posted another double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

In a game that had stamps of efficiency all over it, none stood out as much as the four turnovers MT committed. The mark tied the school record low for turnovers set earlier this season against Toledo. The Blue Raiders rolled the Hilltoppers 78–52.

Middle next traveled to Huntington, W.V., to take on the high-powered Marshall offense.

The Blue Raiders got off to a strong start, outscoring Marshall 47–26 in the first half. But Marshall was firing on all cylinders in the second half, scoring 60 points in the second half alone. However, the second-half production was too little too late. MT came away with their fourth straight win and their 14th in 15 games, but the bigger story was Kermit Davis. This victory marked his 300th career win.

The Blue Raiders wrapped up the month with a trip to Birmingham to take on UAB with a shot at claiming the Conference USA regular season title. The Blazers were chosen to win the title themselves in the preseason, so it was no surprise that this one came down to the wire.

Middle held a slim three-point lead at the half, but the second half would prove to be even more closely contested. After six lead changes, the Blue Raiders had one last possession late to take the lead with the score tied at 64. As the shot clock ticked down to its final seconds, Tyrik Dixon began to drive to the lane, drew the defense in, and then pivoted to pass to Birmingham native JaCorey Williams who hit the go-ahead 15-footer. With four seconds remaining, the Blazers took a buzzer-beater three to try to win the game, but it ricocheted off the back of the rim to give the Blue Raiders the C-USA regular season title.

Despite their success in C-USA, the national analysts remain split on whether or not MT can get into the Big Dance without a C-USA Tournament Championship. If they hope to do so, they will most likely have to win out their remaining conference schedule.

They will wrap up their conference play at Murphy Center. The Blue Raiders will host Florida International at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 2, and Florida Atlantic at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 4.

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