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HALE: Blue Raiders notch big victory in conference debut

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It’s very rare to win a college basketball game when your opponent out rebounds you and shoots 60 percent from the field in your own gym.

Fortunately for MTSU, the Blue Raiders absorbed the aforementioned to knock off UAB  89-84 in overtime before a crowd of 4,605 in their conference opener at Murphy Center.

“We really couldn’t stop them, but we had guys make big shots,” said MTSU coach Kermit Davis. “(Senior forward) Neiko Hunter made some unbelievable shots and was really the MVP in overtime.”

MTSU shot 52.2 percent itself, and had five players (Hunter, Shawn Jones, Reggie Upshaw and Kerry Hammonds) score in double figures.

Jones had 11 points and nine rebounds, Hammonds hit 5 of 10 from 3-point range and netted 17 points, while Upshaw had 15 points and nine boards. Additionally, senior point guard Tweety Knight scored eight points and had seven assists and three steals.

For MTSU to knock off quality teams, and UAB certainly falls into the category, it will need those type of individual performances.

The key stat was probably MTSU forcing 22 UAB turnovers, while only having 11. In the last three games, MTSU has 50 assists and just 18 turnovers.

“We’re definitely a much better team in transition, and we’re able to get those points when we get turnovers,” Davis said.

Kudos to UAB for bringing a nice contingent of fans, which added to a fine atmosphere at Murphy Center.

“If I were one of their fans, I’d want to watch them, too,” Davis said. “They’re a fun team to watch.”

MTSU now turns its attention to tonight’s game at home against UTEP, another quality opponent which figures to challenge for the Conference USA championship.

“They’re big and physical and can really rebound,” Davis said. “We’ll have to play at a high level again.”

MTSU hosts Texas-San Antonio on Saturday at 5 p.m. before hitting the road in C-USA for the first time when it plays at Tulsa Thursday, Jan. 23, and North Texas on Saturday, Jan. 25.

In the polls

MTSU’s Lady Raiders were 12-3 and on an 11-game winning streak going into Wednesday night’s big C-USA game against UTEP.

In the Associated Press poll, MTSU was ranked No. 30 after receiving 15 votes. It also got 15 votes in the USA Today/ESPN women’s poll for a 30th ranking.

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