LOS ANGELES – Beating a well-respected team like UCLA on Tuesday is something the staff and players will relish for quite some time, according to head coach Kermit Davis.
Senior forward LaRon Dendy prepares to shoot during the UCLA game Nov. 15, 2011, in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Athletics/Don Liebig)
“It was a perfect storm tonight,” Davis said, during a postgame interview. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team that played that well offensively, that efficiently. We just made shot after shot. UCLA started to make some runs, and we just kept making shots. It was a complete game for us. When you come on the road and beat a storied program like UCLA, it’s great for our staff and great for our players.”
The Middle Tennessee men’s basketball team shot a Sun Belt record 90.9 percent Tuesday from 3-point range en route to an 86-66 domination of UCLA in one of the EA Sports Maui Invitational Opening Games at the L.A Sports Arena.
It’s the program’s biggest win under head coach Kermit Davis.
It was a memorable night for the Blue Raiders, who shot a school-record 71.4 percent from the field, as five different players reached double figures, led by senior forward LaRon Dendy’s double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
MT’s 3-0 start is the best since the 2001-2002 academic year, when the Blue Raiders also opened the season 3-0.
“They have a lot of fun and that’s what I really enjoy about our team,” Davis said. “They can have a lot of fun and laugh together, but when we start scouting reports, meeting and getting on the floor, it’s a very focused approach. I really like the culture of our team a lot.”
Junior guard Marcos Knight collected 15 points, four assists and two steals, while junior guard Bruce Massey added 14 points, three assists and a steal.
“That’s just putting in work back home,” Massey said. “Everybody takes time with coach just shooting. That’s just practice and putting in work when nobody’s looking.”
Massey, who hadn’t attempted a 3-pointer this year, was 3-for-3 from beyond the arc against the Bruins. He was one of six Blue Raiders to hit a trey, as junior guard Raymond Cintron was also 3-for-3 from 3-point land and netted 11 points.
“(Massey) got off to kind of a bad start (in the game), but he shows good character and really responded from adversity to make some great plays,” Davis said. “Dendy and those guys made some nice extra passes to find him. He shot really wide-open threes, so that was good.”
MT finished 10-for-11 from long range, hitting the first nine in a row.
Sophomore forward Shawn Jones also proved to be an inside force for MT, contributing 12 points, four rebounds and a blocked shot. Jones and Dendy played key roles in the team’s 40-28 advantage in the paint.
The Blue Raiders held UCLA (0-2) to 37.3 percent shooting and just a 20 percent clip from beyond the arc.
Joshua Smith paced the Bruins with 15 points and nine rebounds, while Travis Wear had 10 points.
MT never trailed by more than two and took the lead for good at the 12:29 mark in the first half. UCLA scored the first bucket, but the Blue Raiders’ 8-2 run gave them a four-point advantage with 14:58 to go in the first half.
The two teams seesawed over the next two minutes before MT began pulling away.
“One thing I’m proud of is that we held UCLA to 37 percent and matched them on the boards,” Davis said. “That shows we still had the defensive game as well.”
Tied at 15-15 with 12:04 to play, Sulton’s layup sparked a 10-2 run for the Blue Raiders. UCLA battled back to within two at the 7:02 mark, but Dendy’s old fashion 3-point play on a tip-in and free throw made it a five-point cushion.
Cintron came off the bench and drilled his first 3-pointer of the game with 1:03 remaining in the frame, giving the Blue Raiders an eight-point lead at the break.
MT stepped on the gas to open the second half, stretching the lead to 16 after a 13-5 run coming out of the break.
The Bruins gained momentum midway through the second thanks to three straight buckets by Norman Powell, cutting MT’s lead back to 10 with 10:20 to play, but Massey answered the rally with a triple to make it 64-51 at 9:59.
The Blue Raiders continued to roll through the second half, hitting six of their final seven shots, including Dendy’s triple that gave MT its largest lead of the game at a 22-point margin before going on to the 86-66 victory.
“You can tell we all like each other on the court,” Massey said. “Nobody gets jealous of anybody. If somebody’s hot, we all keep going to him until he cools off. We really like playing with each other, love one another and there’s no jealousy out there on the court.”
MT returns home this weekend to host the EA Sports Maui Invitational Regional games on Saturday and Sunday. The Blue Raiders will face UNC Greensboro on Saturday at 5 p.m., following a match-up between Belmont and Towson. The winner from each game will play on Sunday at 3:30 p.m., preceded by the consolation game at 1 p.m.