Middle Tennessee played host to the Sun Belt Conference’s Georgia State Wednesday, falling to the Panthers 64-56 in the Raiders’ last nonconference game of the season.
“Give Georgia State all the credit – they were the most physical team and the team that wanted to play the most tonight,” MT head coach Kermit Davis said. “Our last couple days of practice hasn’t been the best, so I kind of smelled it coming a little bit.”
Despite coming into the game with the nation’s 28th best field goal percentage (49.2 percent) and the fifth best turnovers per contest rate (9.9), it was the Blue Raider offense that struggled.
The Panthers’ tough defense, which allows opponents to shoot just 39.8 percent from the field and score 67.9 points per game, gave MT problems all night. The Raiders shot just 35 percent (18-51), their lowest output of the season, and turned the ball over 13 times.
“They just played zone the whole game,” Davis said. “We didn’t really have guys make perimeter shots … we just couldn’t get any real flow offensively.”
The game was characterized by runs early on. Georgia State (7-4) started the game hot, jumping to a 15-3 lead, but Middle Tennessee (10-3) came storming back with a 19-4 run to take a 22-19 lead with 7:30 left before halftime.
It was the Raider defense that keyed the run. After starting the game 5-of-7 from the field, the Panthers hit just one of their next 11 shots. Sophomore Antwain Johnson had seven points off the bench for MTSU in the run, including a monster alley-oop slam from freshman Tyrik Dixon.
The Blue Raider lead didn’t last long, as the Panthers closed out the first half on a 14-3 run behind four 3-pointers to take a 33-25 lead at the break.
“That was a big swing, because I think we had just got the tempo of the game back on our side,” senior JaCorey Williams said. “We went into the locker room with no momentum.”
The tough night offensively for the Blue Raiders carried into the second half, as they hit just nine of their 29 shots (31 percent) after halftime and never could get the GSU lead under six points. But, their defense also didn’t make things easy for the Panthers.
Middle Tennessee, which forces opponents to turn the ball over 14.3 times per game, made Georgia State cough the ball up 17 times, 10 of which were Blue Raider steals. Junior Giddy Potts, the team’s leading scorer with 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting, led the way with six takeaways.
While the Raiders did a good job being active and forcing takeaways, the 47.8 percent shooting percentage GSU finished with was far too high for Davis’ liking.
“We had no juice,” he said. “We had no physical presence at all, on the perimeter or around the goal.”
Potts was the most effective Blue Raider on both sides of the ball. He also had a team-high six rebounds and scored 12 of his points in the second half.
Williams added nine points, five rebounds and a team-high four assists, and junior Ed Simpson and Johnson added nine apiece.
Middle Tennessee, which has lost back-to-back games, will try to get back into the win column on New Year’s Day when it begins Conference USA play against UAB.
“We have to start it in practice,” Williams said. “I thought the last few practices were very bad compared to what we’ve had in the past.
“We’ll take some days off for Christmas, but we have to come back and just lock in.”
The contest is scheduled for a 5 p.m. tip.