“We made some tough plays down the stretch. Really proud for our players, assistant coaches, and fans. Sure am glad to be going back to the NCAA Tournament.”–Coach Davis
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Middle Tennessee men’s basketball team is headed to the big dance after a 55-53 win against Old Dominion to capture the 2016 Conference USA Championship.
“This is a great feeling for our players, for our assistant coaches and especially for our fans,” head coach Kermit Davis said.
“We’ve won a lot of games in the last four or five years and won some regular season championships, but to win a tournament and for our players to get to really enjoy going to the NCAA Tournament, we’re really happy for everyone and it is going to be a great week for Middle Tennessee State University.”
Reggie Upshaw was named the Tournament MVP after averaging 17.7 points and 8.0 rebounds and totaling eight assists, five steals and four blocks.
Perrin Buford joined Upshaw on the All-Tournament Team, scoring 16.3 points per game and pulling down 6.0 boards per game.
Middle Tennessee (24-9, 13-5 C-USA) Shot just 36.5 percent but held Old Dominion (22-13, 12-6 C-USA) to 35.7 percent in the defensive showdown.
The game got off to a slow-paced start as the Blue Raiders and Monarchs were tied at six going into the first media timeout.
As the game clock approached the 11:00 mark, Jaqawn Raymond drained a triple to put Middle Tennessee out in front 13-10.
After ODU ran off four consecutive points, Potts put the Raiders back on top with his second long-range jumper of the contest.
The game maintained a slow pace as the half neared its end with Old Dominion taking a six-point advantage with just under a minute to go.
Middle Tennessee got one point back on a free throw by Raymond, but went into the locker room trailing 28-23, converting just 33.3 percent of its field goal attempts in the first half.
Perrin Buford opened the second half with an old-fashioned three-point play but the Monarchs quickly opened up a seven-point lead on the Blue Raiders.
Potts nailed his third trey of the game at the 14:28 mark to pull the Blue Raiders back within one and liven up the large Middle Tennessee crowd in attendance.
Old Dominion held a three-point advantage with 12 minutes on the game clock until Middle reeled off a quick 7-0 run capped by Potts’ fourth three-pointer to go up 43-39.
The Raiders then opened up a 46-41 lead but the Monarchs answered with an 8-0 run as the lead changed hands once again.
Darnell Harris tied the game at 49 with four minutes to go, but the Blue Raiders suffered a blow on their next possession as Giddy Potts was called for his fifth foul on a charge that drew loud booing from the MT faithful.
After swapping a couple more baskets, Middle Tennessee got a key stop to give them a chance to win it on the final possession of the game.
Upshaw drove to the basket as the clock was winding down, spun and drew a foul with 2.9 seconds remaining. Upshaw sank both of his free throws to put the Blue Raiders up 55-53.
“As far as what was going through my mind it was that I had to make those two free throws to help my team. I new that I had to get to the line or get fouled on that last play. It’s the best feeling to win this tournament. It is the best memory I will ever have as far as basketball is concerned. Bouncing back from last years loss against UAB and winning this year is something that I will always cherish. When I was little I didn’t understand the importance of free throws, but to win the game with two big free throws tonight really shows you how important they are.–Reggie Upshaw
Old Dominion ran an inbounds play from the far baseline but couldn’t get a shot to go, sealing the win and the conference championship for Middle Tennessee.
The Blue Raiders will now sit and wait for their name to be called on Selection Sunday ahead of their second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last four years.
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