MTSU's push to the Top 25 men's college basketball poll was thwarted on Saturday night as the Blue Raiders dropped an 80-77 nail biter at VCU in Richmond, Virginia.
"That was a really good college game," MTSU coach Kermit Davis said. "For the second straight year against us they just made the tougher plays."
MTSU (10-2) shot the ball well for much of the game, making 49.1 percent of its attempts from the field and 57.1 percent from three, but VCU (8-3) knocked down 52.6 percent of its shots on the evening and sank over 65 percent in the second half.
Junior guard Giddy Potts led MTSU with 25 points, going 5-of-7 from 3 and adding seven rebounds. Senior forward JaCorey Williams had his third consecutive double-double with 17 points and a career-high 14 boards, while Reggie Upshaw added 15 points and freshman point guard Tyrik Dixon had 12.
"We have to start out stronger," Potts said. "The first few minutes we had five turnovers. We have to start coming out ready to play."
Williams got MTSU going in the second half after the Blue Raiders trailed 38-37 at intermission, but it was Potts who stayed hot, making his first two triples of the second half to put the Blue Raiders up 46-44 at the under 16 media timeout.
Upshaw then scored five straight to five MTSU a 56-52 lead, but the Ram stretched their lead to 66-62 with 5:24 left. However, VCU pulled away in the final minutes for the victory.
"We played really hard tonight, they just made some shots at the end," Potts said. "We had a stretch from about the 10 minute mark to the 5 minute mark where they just played harder."
"Give VCU credit," Davis said. "What a wonderful crowd and their team really played hard."
Last Wednesday, the Blue Raiders were able to knock off Belmont (4-4) with a 79-66 win in Nashville.
"I was really impressed with Belmont's team," Davis said. "They've played great against us throughout the years ... we knew it was going to be tough. It's just what good teams do - we found a way to win a tough game on the road."
Upshaw guided the Raiders on their run to start the game. He scored nine of their first 16 points, all of which came in a row, and with 3:55 left in the first half knocked home a free throw to give him 1,200 career points. He's currently 17th all-time at MTSU in scoring, just six points behind John Price's 1,215 for 16th.
"To score my 1,200th point, that's a great accomplishment," Upshaw said. "It just shows the hard work I've put in the four years I've been here.
Despite the hot start, Belmont got back into the game on the strength of its 3-point shooting. After trailing by as many as 13 points in the first half, the Bruins tied the game at 24 with a Taylor Barnett 3-pointer with 5:27 left in the half. The Blue Raiders entered the break with a 31-28 lead.
"They shot the ball tonight like a typical Belmont team, shooting it in a lot of different spots," Davis said. "When they started playing with us, they were also beating us to 50-50 balls."
The Blue Raiders closed on a 27-10 run over the last 10 minutes, led by Williams with eight points over that span.
MTSU women split with ASU, Austin Peay
The Lady Raiders (3-5) snapped a two-game losing streak last Saturday with an 82-51 victory over Austin Peay at Murphy Center.
MTSU had scored just 48 points in its previous two games against Kentucky and Arizona State, but broke loose for a season-high in points
The Lady Raiders were focused on attacking the Lady Governors (6-6) in the paint, and it showed as sophomore forward Alex Johnson scored a team-high 28 points on 9 of 16 shooting and added six rebounds.
"Coach has been harping in practice on getting the ball to the post," Johnson said. "We're just pounding it inside, because we feel that can make a difference."
Junior forward Rebecca Rueter recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards in her first start of the season. Senior point guard Ty Petty had 10 points, six assists and three steals, and Abbey Sissom and Gabby Lyon had nine points apiece.
MTSU outscored Austin Peay 28-10 in the blocks and cashed in on 27 of 39 at the free-throw line.
"What we have to do is we have to attack the basket," MTSU coach Rick Insell said. "That's what we hadn't been doing - we haven't been attacking the basket."
On Tuesday, No. 23 Arizona State (7-3) set the tempo early, racing out to a 21-6 lead after the first quarter and never looking back.
"They just took it to us, that's all you can say. They're just a better basketball team," Insell said. "I thought we played hard, I just didn't think we played smart.
Johnson led MTSU in scoring with 21 points, but was the only Lady Raider in double figures.
MTSU returns to action tonight when it plays at Missouri State. The Lady Raiders will be back at home on Dec. 28 against Georgia Tech.
Reach sports editor Monte Hale Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org