By Kevin Sweeney
VCU was in need of a big win tonight, and that’s just what they got.
Taking on a very dangerous Middle Tennessee team on the fringes of the Top 25, the Rams were able to make enough plays down the stretch to send home a frenzied Siegel Center crowd happy with a 80-77 win over the Blue Raiders. More importantly, this win could provide VCU with a signature win in the non-conference slate, as MTSU is without a doubt the best win for the Rams so far this season.
“I thought we played our best game.” VCU Head Coach Will Wade said postgame. They needed every bit of it to fend off the Blue Raiders, who had already knocked off Vanderbilt and Ole Miss this season after last year’s historic upset over Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament.
It was a slow start for the typically potent MTSU offense, and VCU capitalized, running out to an early advantage. The Blue Raiders seemed rattled by VCU’s defensive pressure and the raucous road atmosphere, turning the ball over 6 times in the opening 7 minutes. In the meantime, the Rams began to heat up from beyond the arc, making 4 triples in the opening stages of the first half to take a 19-8 lead. MTSU’s experienced roster did not panic despite the early adversity, quickly getting back into the game with an extended 17-6 run led by junior guard Giddy Potts to tie the score at 27 with 6:26 to play in the half. Potts had 17 of his game-high 25 points in the first half, providing a huge boost with his sharp-shooting ability from downtown. VCU did win a psychological battle at the end of the half, as a layup by Samir Doughty in the closing seconds gave the Rams a 38-37 lead going into halftime.
The game was incredibly tight throughout the second half, with neither team ever really able to snatch full control. A three by senior forward Reggie Upshaw gave the Blue Raiders a 51-46 lead just over 5 minutes into the half, but the Rams responded with an 8-0 run to regain the lead. As the game remained tight as it entered its closing stanza, the Rams looked to senior guard JeQuan Lewis to take over, and Lewis obliged. A Lewis 3 gave the Rams a 4 point lead with under 4 minutes to play, and a transition layup gave them a 6 point lead with just 75 seconds to play. However, MTSU never gave in, fighting back thanks in part to some missed free throws by VCU to earn a shot to tie the game in the closing moments. Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, Potts’ deep triple clanged off the back iron before falling harmlessly to the floor, and VCU survived for the huge victory.
Perhaps most impressive for VCU tonight was scoring 80 points against a usually-stout MTSU defense. 6th man Samir Doughty, who had 14 points on the game, played a huge role in the offense, playing point guard for some stretches while Lewis moved off the ball.
Lewis led the way with 20 points for VCU, while Mo Alie-Cox added 15 points & Doughty posted 14. Potts had 25 points for MTSU, while JaCorey Williams posted 17 points and 14 rebounds and Upshaw contributed 15 points for the Blue Raiders.
VCU returns to action Thursday for a home tilt with Louisiana-Monroe, while MTSU returns to Murfreesboro for a Wednesday matchup with Sun Belt contenders Georgia State.