Middle Tennessee gave fans a scare tonight when Troy nearly overcame a 23-point deficit in the second half Thursday night’s 63-51 win at the Murphy Center.
The Raiders worked the ball in the paint early with forwards Jason Jones and Trevor Charles scoring the team’s first eight points. James Washington opened things up for the guards hitting the game’s first three to give the team a quick 11-0 lead.
Guards for middle hit five or their first six three-point shots with Washington knocking down four of them.
Troy pushed back a briefly, going on a 16-5 run out of a timeout at the 11:51 mark. Middle was able to respond, going into halftime with a 40-22 lead.
“I thought for the first 20 minutes we came out with great purposely defensively, shared the ball, got in transition, played fast like we wanted to,” head coach Kermit Davis said. “I thought it was a nice half, we held them to 32 percent and shot 50.”
The second half saw the Middle Tennessee offense drop off in a big way. Troy was able to cut the lead to single digits less than halfway through the second half.
“We just didn’t come out with the energy defensively,” Davis said. “We got passive on offense, we were trying to play fast on transition, we weren’t playing vertical and then when we did we missed a few easy shots and kind of clammed up a bit.”
The team came into the game shooting 77.5 percent from the free throw line but only hit eight of 18 during the game and only six of 13 in the second half.
“We lead the league in free throw shooting,” Davis said. “That part I’m not worried about, we’ve done it enough I think we’re going to be fine there.”
Just when it looked like Troy may overtake the Raiders Washington assisted a fast break dunk by JT Sulton and a three by Jimmy Oden before knocking down a shot of his own from downtown to put the Middle lead back into double digits.
“In the second half we weren’t guarding as well early, we didn’t really get any chances in transition,” Davis said. “We need to play fast. For about seven, eight, nine minutes there in the second half we were playing not to lose the lead instead of being aggressive.”
Washington’s value to the team may have been more evident on the defensive end for the Raiders tonight. Troy guard Will Weathers entered the game averaging 20.8 points per game in conference play. Washington was able to hold Weathers to nine points, only two for seven from the field.
“That’s my job in the second half, as senior leadership, as the point guard, to step up,” Washington said.
Middle Tennessee needed a win, regardless of how it may look on paper. After winning three of four games the Raiders dropped back-to-back conference games coming into Thursday night. They have one day off before welcoming Denver to the Murphy Center Saturday night.
“The main thing is we’ve got to get better every day,” Washington said. “We’ve got to just come in and work like coach tells us to do, get into the scouting report and put them into the game. We’ve got a big game Saturday and we definitely need to win this game.”
Thursday also Marked Davis' 77th win in the Sun Belt, moving him to fourth all-time for wins in the conference.