|For the first time since 1985, both the MTSU men’s and women’s basketball teams have been invited to the NCAA tournament during the same year.
The men’s team lost to North Carolina in the first round 28 years ago, while the Lady Raiders fell to Western Kentucky in the opening round. Much has changed within college basketball since the feat was last achieved for MTSU.
On March 17, the Blue Raiders became the 68th and last team selected for the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The order of selection didn’t matter to the players and coaches, who spent all of Sunday hoping and praying to be one of the 68 teams picked for the event.
“I had a quiet confidence, but as always, a little anxiety when you’re waiting this long for that particular moment, and it kind of popped out of nowhere,” head coach Kermit Davis said. “I’m just so happy for our players, so happy for our fans and its just great publicity for Middle Tennessee.”
Senior, and former Siegel High guard, Kerry Hammonds added, “There was a lot of anxiety not knowing if we were going to play in the NCAA or the NIT. There is a lot of relief finally knowing we are going to the NCAA tournament.”
For the Blue Raiders, their debut game in the 2013 men’s tournament was Tuesday night against Saint Mary’s in Dayton, Ohio, during the First Four.
“It feels good to know all of your hard work from the summer to now is paying off,” senior guard Bruce Massey said. “Just to be in there, knowing Coach Davis is making it to the tournament at Middle Tennessee, knowing our six seniors are finally getting to play in the tournament, it’s a good feeling.”
MTSU fell to Saint Mary’s, 67-54, before a crowd of 12,027 at Dayton Arena. The Blue Raiders finished the year with a 28-6 record.
For the win, Saint Mary’s received the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region and play Memphis today at 1:45 p.m. in Auburn Hills, Mich.
“It’s just I’m so proud of our players ...” Davis said. “The national attention we’ve kind of gotten, the MT brand the last two years is fantastic. Those six seniors will be sorely missed, but we’ve got a top 25 recruiting class coming in and a good number of players coming back. So we feel really good about the future.”
Regardless of how the Blue Raiders finished in the tournament, everybody within the program can breathe a sigh of relief since the 24-year drought is finally over.
“It just feels so good,” Davis said. “It feels good for our fan base. It’s been a long time coming.”
Lady Raiders win automatic bid
As for the Lady Raiders, they qualified for their school record, fifth consecutive NCAA tournament.
Unlike the men, the women did not have to hope to be selected as an at-large team. Instead, the team knew it was in with an automatic bid since MTSU won the Sun Belt Conference tournament title on March 11. They received a No. 12 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional.
“The last seven days have felt good,” Lady Raiders head coach Rick Insell said. “It has not just been today, it’s been seven days that have felt good. You did not have to worry about who was winning and who was losing. ... You just had to be concerned where you were going to play.”
Well, it will be a short three-hour drive for the Lady Raiders as they will play host and No. 5 seed Louisville Cardinals on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
For the team’s three seniors – guard Kortni Jones, forward Icelyn Elie and center Dymon Raynor – it made a perfect four-for-four in NCAA tournament appearances during their MTSU careers.
“More than anything I feel blessed,” Jones said. “ A lot of friends that went to other schools have not even been to one. Being from a mid-major program says a lot about how far this program has come and where it is going.”
The Lady Raiders will be looking for their first win in the NCAAs since 2007.
Regardless what happens this weekend, it has already been a historical week with both programs playing in the NCAAs in the same year for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president.
“It’s exciting,” Insell said. “It’s great to be a Blue Raider right now. If you can not get excited about being a Blue