An old Ohio Valley Conference rivalry was renewed Tuesday as Murray State (1-1) traveled to the Murphy Center and fell to Middle Tennessee (2-0) 87-81.
It was the 139th edition of the longstanding series that dates back to the 1929-30 season and a rematch of last year’s 76-65 Murray State win.
“I think everyone in the arena tonight saw that’s a really, really good Murray State team,” MT head coach Kermit Davis said. “I was proud of our team, and it’s a really good win for us.”
Middle came out of the gates slow against the Racer defense. Through the first 10 minutes, the Blue Raiders hit just 7-of-19 field goals and were 0-6 from 3-point range.
Once they got their footing, though, the Raiders were dangerous on the offensive end. They made eight of their last 14 shots of the first half and turned what was at one point a 19-10 disadvantage into a 41-39 lead at the break and eventually as much as an 11-point advantage in the second half.
Much of their scoring came in the paint, as the Blue Raiders outscored the Racers 42-24 down low.
“We got on our heels and settled, and the ball just didn’t move,” Davis said. “The ball finally started going in and out and we got paint touches, and then we started going to the free-throw line. That started opening things up a little bit.”
It wasn’t just one player who dominated the looks offensively. Ten out of the 11 players who saw the floor had at least one point for Middle Tennessee.
“That’s really important,” senior forward Reggie Upshaw said. “Anytime you can have your bench come off and play a great game and really kind of take control of the game and help us get momentum back on our side, it’s always a great help.”
Redshirt senior JaCorey Williams led the team with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting. It was his second 20-plus point game in as many contests as a Blue Raider.
Upshaw hit 6-of-12 shots for 15 points and had eight rebounds, and junior Giddy Potts added 16 points and a team-high nine boards.
The uptick offensively also seemed to fuel Middle Tennessee’s defense.
After the Racers hit 10 of their first 18 shots, the Blue Raiders limited them to just one made basket in their next nine attempts to close out the first half.
That strong defense continued after the break, as Murray State made just 15-of-34 shots in the second half to finish with a 42 percent shooting percentage (27-63) for the game.
“In the huddle, coach got onto us about how unphysical we were being and how we were letting guards get into the paint,” Williams said. “We tried to control them the best we could … we did enough to win, that’s the most important thing.”
Davis said he wants to see that strong play defensively carry over into the Raiders’ next game against the Tennessee State Tigers (3-0) on Nov. 19.
He also hopes his team can crash the offensive boards like it did Tuesday. Middle Tennessee collected 14 of its misses and created 17 second-chance points.
“We have to keep rebounding the ball,” Davis said. “We just have to keep making progress … [Tennessee State] is another really good team, and we won a game at Tennessee State pretty similar to this one last year.”
Saturday’s contest against the Tigers is set to tip off at 6:30 p.m. at the Murphy Center.