By Kevin Sweeney
Last year, Middle Tennessee State took the college basketball world by surprise. They had been hidden in UAB’s shadow in Conference-USA, and were given virtually no chance to beat Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament.
After the thrilling upset, no one has overlooked the Blue Raiders. It hasn’t mattered.
Middle Tennessee beat another Power 5 foe tonight, this time dominating Vanderbilt to move to 9-1 on the young season. Giddy Potts’ 27 points and 9 rebounds led the way for the Blue Raiders.
It was an ugly start to the game for both teams, as neither side could establish much flow offensively. The Commodores were completely shut down, going almost 9 minutes without a field goal in the early stages of the half. However, Middle Tennessee was unable to get much separation thanks to some stingy defense by Vanderbilt, scoring just 21 points in the opening 15:24 of the half. The only player who could get anything going was Potts, who scored 15 of the Raiders’ 31 first half points. Potts knocked down 3 triples in the first half, a huge boost for an MTSU team that struggled with the shot in the first half.
The second half was when Middle Tennessee took full control. They quickly extended a 16-point lead in the opening 4 minutes of the second half, and never allowed that lead to shrink below double digits the rest of the way. The Blue Raiders continued to play excellent defense, especially on Commodore 7-footer Luke Kornet. Kornet, who was averaging over 13 points per game coming into the game, was held to just 8 points in the contest. Meanwhile, the rout was on, as the Blue Raider lead ballooned to as many as 26 during the second half.
In addition to Potts’ huge night, Reggie Upshaw and JaCorey Williams each had strong games. Upshaw had 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, while Williams posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Middle Tennessee continues to build a strong resume and have put themselves squarely into contention for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The trio of Potts, Reggie Upshaw, and JaCorey Williams can matchup with anyone in the country, and might be the best trio in mid-major basketball.
Vanderbilt’s early-season struggles under first year head coach Bryce Drew continue. The Commodores fall to 5-5 with the loss tonight, and still have two difficult games left in the non-conference slate, including a trip to Dayton.