|Middle Tennessee sent its seniors out in style Saturday, topping Florida Atlantic 93-59 on Senior Day at the Murphy Center.
The win, the 11th in a row for MT over the Owls (10-19, 6-12), closed out the regular season for the Conference USA champion Blue Raiders (27-4, 17-1). It tied the school record for wins in a regular season.
“I don’t know if you could ask for a better afternoon of basketball in how it all turned out,” MT head coach Kermit Davis said. “It was an unbelievable crowd of almost 9,000 people for senior day, and I can’t tell you how good those guys felt seeing the enthusiasm in that arena. We really, really appreciate that.”
For the second game in a row, Middle Tennessee came out a little sluggish offensively. The Raiders hit just four of their first 12 shots and fell into a 17-10 hole through nine minutes.
Just as they did against FIU on Thursday, the Blue Raiders found their groove on both ends of the floor in the middle of the first half. They used a 24-4 run over seven minutes of game time to turn the seven-point deficit into a 13-point lead and went into halftime with a 44-36 advantage.
“I thought FAU played with a lot of energy and hung around and hung around,” Davis said. “I just thought our physicalness and our depth kind of wore them down.”
It was a change of aggressiveness that led to Middle Tennessee’s first-half run.
The Blue Raiders, who shoot 68.8 percent from the free-throw line as a team, made just 2 of 4 from the charity stripe in the first nine minutes. Once the run started, they combined to shoot 8 for 9 and finished the game 24 for 28 (86 percent).
“Again, we came out just a little bit passive,” Davis said. “Finally, every kind of set we called was right at the paint and we were going to make them guard us at the goal. I think when we did that we got to the line more, and we’ve really developed into a really, really good free-throw shooting team.”
Middle Tennessee looked intent on putting the game away early in the second half behind Giddy Potts. The junior scored 16 of his game- and career-high 30 after halftime. He also added seven rebounds and shot 12 for 18 from the field.
“I saw the lanes were wide open, so I just kept trying to drive the ball and finish over the big guys,” Potts said. “I just tried to stay aggressive the whole game.”
It was the last time seniors Xavier Habersham, Aldonis Foote, JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw will suit up at the Murphy Center.
Upshaw, who moved into a tie for seventh all-time at MTSU with his 19th career double-double in an 11-point, 10-rebound performance, perhaps had the best night of all.
During senior introductions before the game his brother, Gage Upshaw, surprised him on the court. Gage is currently a student at the Air Force Academy.
“My teammates already knew, so I guess I was the only one left in the dark about that and I don’t really like surprises,” Reggie Upshaw said. “But to see him fly in from being at school – I haven’t seen him since Christmas – it was a special moment. I’m glad he could make it.”
Williams had 17 points and seven rebounds, while Habersham and Foote added four points apiece. Freshman Tyrik Dixon rounded out the double-figure scoring with 10.
The Blue Raiders will begin their C-USA tournament title defense on Thursday in Birmingham.
“We’re going to approach the conference tournament as if we have to win, because Selection Sunday isn’t here yet so no one knows – everything is just predictions,” Williams said. “If we win the conference tournament, there won’t be any more questions.”