Middle Tennessee had not won at Belmont University’s Curb Event Center since 2005. That all changed with a 79-66 victory Wednesday night.
The Blue Raiders (10-1) were able to put the Bruins (4-4) away late and showed their head coach a lot of poise and confidence down the stretch. It was their second-straight victory in the series with their Nashville neighbors and eighth win in a row this season.
“I was really impressed with Belmont’s team,” head coach Kermit Davis said. “They’ve played great against us throughout the years … we knew it was going to be tough. It’s just what good teams do – we found a way to win a tough game on the road.”
Middle Tennessee started hot, jumping out to a 13-0 lead by limiting the Bruins to an 0-for-6 start from the field.
Senior Reggie Upshaw guided the Raiders on their run to start the game. He scored nine of their first 16 points, all of which came in a row, and with 3:55 left in the first half knocked home a free throw to give him 1,200 career points. He’s currently 17th all-time at MTSU in scoring, just six points behind John Price’s 1,215 for 16th.
“To score my 1,200th point, that’s a great accomplishment,” Upshaw said. “It just shows the hard work I’ve put in the four years I’ve been here.
“Going through the first part of the game, Coach Davis made it an emphasis to get the ball in the paint and be aggressive around the rim early. For myself, I was just trying to post up as deep as I could and use my strength.”
Despite the hot start, Belmont got back into the game on the strength of its 3-point shooting. After trailing by as many as 13 points in the first half, the Bruins tied the game at 24 with a Taylor Barnett 3-pointer with 5:27 left in the half. The Blue Raiders entered the break with a 31-28 lead.
“They shot the ball tonight like a typical Belmont team, shooting it in a lot of different spots,” Davis said. “When they started playing with us, they were also beating us to 50-50 balls.”
Belmont continued its strong run into the second half, taking as large as a four-point advantage with 10 minutes left in the game. But, Middle Tennessee had an answer.
The Blue Raiders closed on a 27-10 run over the last 10 minutes, led by redshirt senior JaCorey Williams with eight points over that span.
The key to the Raiders’ strong close was their ability to take care of the basketball. The seventh-best turnover team in the country (10.2 per game) coughed it up just five times, their new season low.
“That’s probably one of the best things we do as a team, is limited amounts of turnovers,” Davis said. “Seventeen [assists] to five [turnovers] is a great number.”
Not only was the win special because it came on the road against an in-state opponent, but it also came on Davis’ birthday.
“You want to wake up on your birthday with a good feeling in your stomach, but on game days I wake up with this bad feeling in my gut,” he said. “But it was a great birthday present for me.”
Upshaw led the way in scoring with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Williamson added 18 on 8-of-17 shooting and junior Giddy Potts had 17, including a 6-of-6 night from the free-throw line and 3-of-4 from distance.
The Blue Raiders don’t have a lot of time to think about the win, as they travel Saturday to Virginia Commonwealth to take on the Rams.
“We know it’s going to be a quick turnaround, especially playing against Belmont with how they get the ball up and down the floor,” Williams said. “We know VCU is just as good at getting the ball up and down the floor, so we’re going to go home and get some rest and try to prepare for them.”
Saturday’s tip is scheduled for 6 p.m.