On a day in which the MTSU basketball program honored it legends, it was a legendary performance by this season’s Blue Raiders as it knocked off Southern Mississippi 81-64 on Saturday afternoon at the Murphy Center. It was a matchup between two of the top teams in Conference USA. The Blue Raiders extended its winning streak to seven in a row.
“It meant a lot, we love playing in front of our home crowd,” MTSU senior guard Kerry Hammonds said after the game, “Having the legends out there, and seeing what they built to what it is now. It is big.”
After a three pointer by USM senior guard Neil Watson to get the Golden Eagles within one, 10-9 with 16:15 left in the first half. The Blue Raiders took control in contest by going on an 8-0 run, which included back-to-back threes by senior forward Neiko Hunter.
However, MTSU senior superstar forward Shaun Jones came out of the game with 14:42 remaining in the opening half after picking up his second foul. He only had two points and one rebound during the first half, and he finished with only seven points and four rebounds in the game.
In the meantime, MTSU’s hot shooting continued as it shot an impressive 69 percent from long distance, including hitting nine out its first 10 three-pointers. They also shot 62.5 percent from the field during the first half as it took a 47-29 advantage into the break.
Blue Raider senior forward and former Siegel star Kerry Hammonds nailed five three-pointers during the first 20 minutes. He finished with a team-high 26 points, while Hunter added 20 in the win.
“I thought in the first half, we executed as well as we executed in a long time,” MTSU head coach Kermit Davis said after the win. “I thought we passed the ball really sharp, and Hammonds was just terrific. I was really proud of our team. It was a really good win against a really well coached and really good team.”
At the beginning of the second half, USM went on a 10-0 run of its own, which included two threes by Watson to cut the advantage down to 10, 49-39. However, the Blue Raiders answered by first causing a Golden Eagle turnover and then sophomore guard Jaqawn Raymond scored on a four point play with 13:53 left in the game.
USM closed it back down to 10, 62-54 with 5:59 left after layup by senior guard Michael Craig, but the Blue Raiders answered for good when senior guard Tweety Knight made a free throw. However, he missed the second one, but Jones was there for the put back to put MTSU ahead 65-54 with 4:59 remaining in the game. The Golden Eagles did not get any closer.
Today’s matchup had two out of the four teams which were tied for first place in C-USA with matching 8-2 marks. The Blue Raiders were coming off an impressive 71-44 win over Tulane on Thursday night, while USM fell at UAB 84-60 on the same night. Also, both teams were coming into the game with Top 100 RPI rankings, USM at 40, and MTSU at 84. So, this was a big game in terms of NCAA tournament berths being on the line.
It was a classic matchup between student and teacher, USM head coach Donnie Tyndall was an assistant here at MTSU under current head coach Kermit Davis from 2002-06. Since leaving the Blue Raider program, Tyndall has led Morehead State to the NCAA tournament, twice, and since taking over the USM team in 2012 he took them to the NIT last season. Both coaches and great friends hated coaching against each other today.
“I do not like that at all, coaching against buddies,” Davis said. “I have so much respect for Tyndall, and what has done at USM is unbelievable. If we got beat, I sure would feel good for Tyndall. I do not want any of that, we only does it because it is league play.”
“He does not hate it when he wins, I can promise you that,” Tyndall joked after the game. “I do not like, but it is what it is. I am very prideful to be part of Davis’ staff here, and I learned a great deal from him. However, it is competition, and for two hours you go at it, and then when it is over you are back friends again. That is never going to change, and he has got one heck of a team. He has done a remarkable job building this program.
Now, the Blue Raiders head into a key three-game stretch on road, which begins Feb. 20 at Charlotte at 7 p.m. During the road trip, it will also play at Marshall and at Louisiana Tech before returning to the Murphy Center for the home finale on March 1 against Rice.