MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- The Blue Raiders first Conference USA basketball game Saturday had a little bit of everything.
They won in overtime, 89-84 against UAB at the Murphy Center. With the win, MTSU makes it 25 conference home wins in a row, but this was a step up in competition in the new conference.
“That was one of the better college games I have been involved in a long time,” MTSU head coach Kermit Davis said. “We beat a great team. They have really good players, and they have played up to top 25 competition.
"We had the game going, but we could not stop them. I loved the way we regrouped in overtime. It was a heck of a team effort. Those are a lot of games we are going to see in Conference USA.”
After UAB put down as many as 13 points during the second half, the Blazers slowly chipped away at the Blue Raiders advantage by making key free throws and causing turnovers down the stretch. UAB finally tied the score at 77 after a couple of free throws by senior guard Robert Williams with 35 seconds left in the game.
The Blue Raiders had a chance to win the game in regulation, but senior guard Kerry Hammonds, a former Siegel High School star, missed a 3-pointer and freshman forward Reggie Upshaw missed the put-back as time ran out.
During the break before overtime, Davis calmed his team down, and they responded during the five free minutes of basketball.
MTSU senior forward Shaun Jones got the overtime started with a slam off a Blue Raider miss to give it a 79-77 advantage with 4 minutes 5 seconds left in the extra session.
“We just needed to bring more energy than we had at the end of regulation and limit the turnovers,” Upshaw said. “He told us just to stop them.”
The Blazers responded with five consecutive points, including a huge 3-pointer by junior guard Chad Frazier with 3:23 left in overtime. He finished it with a game high of 28 points, but it was not enough for UAB.
“He is a big time player, and he can score the basketball,” UAB head coach Jerod Haase said. “We are trying to get more help for him out there, as well other guys making some shots. He is a big-time player, and he has been consistent throughout the year.”
MTSU senior forward Neiko Hunter answered with a huge 3-pointer of his own with 2:57 left to tie the score at 82-82. A few seconds later, he added a bucket to give the Blue Raiders the lead for good at 84-82.
Jones scored on a tip-in to make it 86-82 with 53 seconds left.
“Times like that being in overtime, I love to be in a game like that,” Hunter said.
The Blazers cut it back down to two, 86-84 after a basket by freshman guard Denzell Watts with 46 seconds left in the game. However, Upshaw took a pass from Hunter and put it in while he was fouled to seal the game for the Blue Raiders with 15 seconds to go. He added the bonus free throw to give the Blue Raiders their first ever Conference USA win.
“At the time it was nothing, but excitement,” Upshaw said. “It was a little honor in that basket, knowing a senior would pass it off to a freshman, and let me make the game winner and close the game out.”
Jones led all Blue Raiders with 22 points, while Hammonds added 17. Upshaw had 15 in the win, and Hunter chipped in with 12.
The Blue Raiders improve to 11-5, 1-0 in Conference USA, while the Blazers drop to 11-4, 0-1 on the season. MTSU returns to the Murphy Center on Thursday, Jan. 16, for a game against the University of Texas at El Paso at 7 p.m.