MTSU senior forward Shawn Jones (12) leads the Blue Raiders at 13.9 points and 8.6 rebounds a game. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Athletics)
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- MTSU’s men have one final tune-up on Tuesday night at Tennessee State before they open Conference USA play at home against UAB on Saturday afternoon.
The Blue Raiders (9-5) face a TSU squad that is struggling mightily at 1-14 (going into Saturday night’s game against Jacksonville State), but MTSU coach Kermit Davis is hardly taking the Tigers lightly.
After all, MTSU dropped an 89-85 decision to a previously one-win Maine team in overtime last weekend in the Dr. Pepper Classic in Chattanooga.
“(TSU) has struggled a bit, but they’ve played some really good teams close, and you get the feeling they’re just a couple of wins away from really taking off.
“They’ve got maybe the best guard (Patrick Miller) in the OVC right now, and it’s always tough to grind out wins there. It will be a league type of game.”
After falling to Maine in OT, the Blue Raiders bounced back in the consolation game of the tournament with a 79-56 victory over Grand Canyon – arguably a much better squad than Maine.
“Against Maine, we just played out of character,” Davis said. “We go 5 of 25 from 3, and none of them were bad shots. They were wide-open shots.
“And Maine goes 14 of 22 (from 3-point range). We did do a good job defensively, but they made some incredible shots. It was a little bit of both, us not defending and them hitting shots. You tip your hat to them.
“Against Grand Canyon, we came out with a lot of intensity and got on them early like we’re accustomed to. It was good to see us bounce right back a day later.”
TSU is led by Miller, who averages 21.6 points a game, and MJ Rhett, who averages 10.1 points and 9.4 rebounds a game. MTSU counters with senior forwards Shawn Jones (13.9 ppg, 8,6 rebounds) and Neiko Hunter (13.2, 4.6), and senior guard Kerry Hammonds (11.2, 3.5).
MTSU opens up Conference USA play with three home games versus UAB (Saturday), UTEP (Jan. 16) and Texas-San Antonio.
“UAB is really good. Anytime you beat North Carolina, you know it’s a quality team,” Davis said. “I think UAB and UTEP will be two great home games for our fans.”
Davis still calls his team a “work in progress.”
“I think we could finish sixth or seventh in the league, but if we keep getting better and better we can win it,” he said. “Right now, I’d say Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and UAB look very good, and UTEP and Charlotte, who won the Puerto Rico tournament, have some good wins.
“It’s going to be a great league and a great race. There are going to be some very hostile arenas that we’ll have to play in.”