In front of one of the biggest crowds in Murphy Center history and a national television audience, the Middle Tennessee men’s basketball team Saturday defeated rival Western Kentucky 72-53 in the final home meeting as Sun Belt Conference rivals.
“It was a great atmosphere for college basketball,” MTSU head coach Kermit Davis said about the crowd of 10,105. “They played a big part in the win, today.”
With the win the Blue Raiders extended several winning streaks, including 24 in a row at the Murphy Center, its fourth straight win over the Hilltoppers at the Glass House, and its seventh win a row this season.
However, none of mattered to the Blue Raiders, instead it was payback for what happened on Feb. 25, 2012 when it got beat 73-67 at WKU. The loss knocked the MTSU out of a NCAA at-large berth, and instead MTSU earned a NIT bid.
After the game, the Blue Raider coaches and players did not take this win as a measure of payback for last season or making a statement, instead they took as a another conference victory.
“Not at all, it was us trying to get better,” Davis said. “It’s a good feeling to win today.”
MTSU senior guard Marcos Knight added, “We treat every conference game the same way.”
One of the reasons why, the Blue Raiders have been successful this season has been the defense, especially from long range. The success continued in the first half, as it held WKU to zero percent shooting from three-point range. The Hilltoppers were 0-for-6 from long distance. WKU finished the game going four-for-nine from three-point distance and they were held to 26.7 percent shooting from that distance.
Coming into the game, the Blue Raiders were ranked 13th in the nation in three-point field goal defense percentage holding teams to only 28 percent from that range.
Earlier the Blue Raiders started the game on an 8-0, including two three-pointers by Murfreesboro native and senior guard Kerry Hammonds. While, the MTSU defense held WKU scoreless for the first four minutes of the game.
The Blue Raiders largest lead was 22-9 after a jumper by junior center Torin Walker, but the Hilltoppers cut the lead to five late in the first half. MTSU senior guard Raymond Cintron scored on a driving layup to the basket with 22 seconds left to give them a 30-23 lead at the half.
In the second half, WKU was able to cut the lead down to six, 42-36 with 14:01 left in the game after a three by Hilltopper sophomore Kevin Kasper. Then, the Blue Raider defense once again took control and went on a 21-4 run to increase to lead to 23 points, 63-40 after a layup by MTSU senior guard Bruce Massey with 5:43 left in the contest. WKU did not get closer than 17 points during the rest of the game.
WKU head coach Ray Harper gave credit to the MTSU defense for holding them in check during the run.
“We just made bad decisions,” Harper said after the game. “We did not respond to their run in the second half.”
The Blue Raiders forced 18 turnovers in the win, and Harper believed the Blue Raiders are one of the best defenses it has faced this season.
“It is the best half-court defensive team we have faced this season,” Harper said.
The Blue Raiders stay in first place in the SBC Eastern Division with a record of 18-4 overall and 10-1 in the SBC. Next up is a trip to Florida International on Jan. 31 at 6:30 p.m. for a doubleheader with the women’s team.
The Hilltoppers fall to 11-11, 5-6 on the season.