The Blue Raiders finally passed its final test with a 71-58 win on Thursday night over Troy, now, its time to head to the Music City to face in-state rival Vanderbilt on Saturday. After the win, the Blue Raiders coaches and players admitted that they had been looking ahead, but they knew they had to get the job done tonight.
“We knew it was coming, but we had to take care of business tonight,” MTSU forward LeRon Dendy said after the game. He finished the game with 17 points, including five-of-seven from long distance.
Early in the game, the Blue Raiders had a hard time trying to solve the suffocating zone defense put on by Troy. However, junior guard Raymond Clinton found the missing piece to the puzzle with four three-pointers in the first half. It was a tight affair with the Trojans hanging in there until a three-point shot to break open the game.
In the meantime, MTSU extended the lead as high as nine after a Clinton downtown bomb with 4:59 left in the opening half. The shot came after several of his teammates hit the deck to grab the loose ball. During the rest of first half, the Trojans got no closer than nine points and the halftime score was 39-30, Blue Raiders.
“We had to be ready to shoot over the zone,” Cintron said in the postgame press conference. He also finished with 17 points.
For MTSU squad that had been ice cold from beyond the arc so far during conference play, in which it has only shot 24 percent. MTSU got hot at the right time by shooting 50 percent (5-for-10) in the first half; local product from Siegel sophomore Kerry Hammonds hit a key three-pointer to go along with Cintron’s four from deep to break open the close score.
Cintron’s hot shooting continued in the beginning of the second half, when he nailed another three-ball to make the score 47-33. After a couple of MTSU turnovers, Troy cut the advantage back down to nine, 51-42 when junior Justin Wright hit a three-pointer of his own with 14:20 remaining.
The Blue Raiders extended it to 62-44 after a three-point shot by junior James Gallman and two buckets in the paint by sophomore Shawn Jones. The Trojans fought back to cut the advantage down to 11, 64-53 after a R.J. Good long distance shot.
However, Blue Raider senior LaRon Dendy hit a shot inside the paint, and Hammonds added a thunderous dunk to stretch the deficit back to 15, 68-53. Troy kept hanging in there by hitting key baskets, but the Blue Raiders pulled away for the victory.
With the win, MTSU is now 20-2 on the season. It is the first time, the Blue Raiders have reached that plateau since the 1990-91 season.
After the game, head coach Kermit Davis said he did not spend a lot of time speaking to his team about reaching the mark. Instead, they turned its focus on one of the best teams in the nation, Vanderbilt. Even through, the game is stuck in the middle of conference play; Davis does not mind facing the challenge.
“I love the game where it is at, but it will not define our season,” Davis said. “We are just going to go out and play our tails off.”
Tip-off for Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt is 1 p.m.; however it will not be televised.