The Blue Raiders wrapped up their epic regular season run last week, and as a result were showered with accolades this week.
The final week of regular season conference play started with a home stand against Florida International. Though expected to be a blowout, the Panthers came out hot and made this one interesting.
FIU got off to a 20–1 lead as the Blue Raiders struggled with shooting and ball security. MT committed six turnovers in the first seven minutes of play while the Panthers made good on eight of their first 10 shots. However, the Blue Raiders would not go away quietly as a 17–5 run drastically cut the Panthers lead. FIU held the advantage at the half, 38–30.
MT stayed hot as the second half commenced, jumping on top for the first time with a 18–6 run. Although the Panthers stayed within striking distance throughout the rest of the game they never regained the lead. The Blue Raiders closed out the victory 70–67 on the strength of JaCorey Williams’ 23-point performance.
The Blue Raiders next played host to Florida Atlantic on Senior Night. As Murphy Center bid a fond farewell to Williams, Xavier Habersham, Aldonis Foote and Reggie Upshaw, Upshaw received a pleasant and emotional surprise. As Coach Davis greeted the Upshaw family, another member, dressed in military fatigues, arrived late to the huddle. When Reggie saw his younger brother, Gage, he fell to the floor in tears before getting up for a long embrace with his brother.
“Well, Giddy (Potts) and the rest of my teammates already knew, so I guess I was the only one left in the dark. I wasn’t even going to cry, but to see him fly in from school was a special moment. I’m glad he could make it.”
Gage Upshaw is enrolled at the Air Force Academy. The two had not seen each other since before Christmas 2016.
With emotions running high in Murphy Center, the Blue Raiders came out a little slow as they made only four of their first 12 shots. After falling behind 17–10 in the first half, MT kicked it up a notch as they broke out for a 24–4 run to close out the first half with a 44–36 lead. Middle kept the intensity going as they closed the book on the game 93–59.
With the win well in hand, Kermit Davis subbed Upshaw out for the last time at Murphy Center. Amid a standing ovation, one of the most iconic players to ever suit up for the Blue Raiders took center court, waved to the fans and kissed the center court logo.
Upshaw finished his final home game with 11 points and 10 rebounds, his 19th career double-double. Williams scored 17 points and pulled down seven boards, but it was Giddy Potts who stole the show. Potts notched a career-high 30 points.
The Blue Raiders finished their regular season with 27–4 record, dropping only one game in conference play. As a result the Blue Raiders were voted 25th in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. The ranking marks the first time in Blue Raider basketball history that they have been ranked.
The accolades did not stop there. On Monday three Blue Raiders received All-Conference USA honors. Williams was named to the first team, Upshaw to the second and Potts to the third. On Wednesday, Williams was named C-USA Player of the Year and Kermit Davis was named C-USA Coach of the Year. Williams was also named C-USA Newcomer of the Year.
After claiming the regular season conference title, the Blue Raiders’ eyes are now turned to the C-USA Tournament Championship. A tournament championship will guarantee a trip to the NCAA Tournament for MTSU, but the question remains if an at-large bid is possible.
“I think we’re in, but let me tell you one thing, we have a really good tournament team and our team will have one thing on our mind,” said Davis. “That’s going to win the Conference USA Tournament and leave no doubt.”
Williams echoed Davis’ sentiment.
“We really want to win the conference tournament, we don’t want leave any doubt,” stated Williams. “So, we’re going to approach the conference tournament as if we have to win. Selection Sunday is not here yet, so nobody knows. Everything is prediction.”
The Blue Raiders won their first game in the C-USA Tournament on March 9 against Texas-San Antonio; they will take on Texas-El Paso in the semifinals on March 10.