BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The Middle Tennessee men's basketball team (23-8, 13-3 C-USA) squeaked by UAB (18-12, 7-9 C-USA) 55-53 on the road at Bartow Arena as senior point guard Tweety Knight hit the game-winning layup with four seconds remaining to clinch a share of the regular season Conference USA title.
The win gives the Raiders their third-straight regular season conference crown and fourth in the last five seasons. MT will be the No. 3-seed in the C-USA Championship next week. The Blue Raiders become Middle Tennessee's second program to clinch a conference team title in the school's first year in C-USA. The MT women's basketball team secured their regular season league championships last week.
With 1:58 to go, UAB's Chad Frazier went to the line and hit the first free throw to give the Blazers a six-point lead. He missed the second freebie and MT's Marcus Tarrance collected the defensive rebound. Knight pitched the ball to senior Kerry Hammonds II, who knocked down a big three-pointer with 1:51 on the clock to cut the UAB lead to 53-50.
The Blue Raider defense forced a turnover on the other end to give MT the ball with 1:25 to go. Middle Tennessee senior Neiko Hunter then drained a three-ball from Knight to knot things up at 53-53 with 1:01 to play. The next possession, the Blazers missed a jumper and the Raiders corralled a defensive team board to take control with 36 seconds left.
With the score tied 53-53, the Blue Raiders held the ball for a last-shot situation and that's what they got as Knight drove in and netted a layup with four seconds remaining. The Blue Raider defense held for the remaining four ticks and the Blazers were unable to get a shot off as MT claimed the 55-53 victory.
"Hats off to UAB, I thought they played extremely well and extremely hard," said MT head coach Kermit Davis. "We looked kind of dead in the water at one point, but that's kind of been our team's M.O. all year, just making those tough plays at the end. Kerry Hammonds didn't play real well in the first half, but he just made big shots in the second half. Neiko Hunter didn't play his best game, but made a big shot down the stretch and Shawn Jones was just terrific. It couldn't have happened to a better teammate than for Tweety (Knight) to make the bucket. You know, he'll remember that shot the rest of his life."
Senior Shawn Jones led MT with his 10th double-double of the season, putting up a game-high 16 points and snagging a game-best 18 rebounds. He notched the double-double in the opening half of play, tallying 12 points and grabbing 11 boards. On the night, the big man went 8-for-12 from the floor, while collecting three blocked shots.
Hammonds finished the night with 11 points for the Blue Raiders, hitting big shots down the stretch to go 3-for-7 from behind the arc. Knight posted nine points on the night, while handing out four assists. Hunter and Tarrance each recorded seven points for MT.
On the night, Middle Tennessee shot 43.5-percent from the floor and 38.5-percent from long distance, while UAB was 44.4-percent from the floor and 30.8-percent from three-point range. The Blue Raiders outrebounded the Blazers 32-29.
The Raiders return to action next week, traveling to the C-USA Championship in El Paso, Texas March 11-15. MT will be the No. 3-seed and will play Thursday, March 13 at 3:30 p.m. CT.
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