MTSU senior forward Reggie Upshaw turned in a career day as the Blue Raiders rang in the New Year with a 60-49 victory against UAB in the Conference opener Sunday at Murphy Center.
Upshaw logged a career-high 34 points and a game-high nine rebounds to secure the Blue Raiders' first win against the Blazers since 2014.
MTSU (11-3, 1-0) also provided a defensive clinic, limiting the Blazers to its lowest point production since Nov. 2014 and held UAB (7-7, 0-1) to just 35 percent from the field. The Raiders also tallied seven steals and forced 16 UAB turnovers on the night.
"The simple goal is to hold them to 39 percent or lower, which we did," MTSU coach Kermit Davis said. "We talked about staying connected and playing for each other, and I thought tonight we did. I thought we took them out of rhythm and went real fundamental tonight. It was our best defensive effort."
The Blue Raiders found success early on both ends of the floor, jumping out to a 10-1 lead and holding UAB without a field goal until the 16:48 mark.
The Blazers found a brief rhythm using a 9-4 run to close the deficit to 14-10.
Clinging to a three-point advantage, the Blue Raiders used an 11-0 run down the stretch of the first half highlighted by a pair of threes from Upshaw to push the lead to 29-15.
Upshaw also finished the night with a career-best four three-pointers.
"I came in earlier before shoot around started and got some shots on my own. I guess that's where it came from. It was all about the rhythm. It started on the defensive end once I got that first defensive rebound, and it trickled over to the offensive end," Upshaw said. "It was a team effort tonight. It's always great to start 1-0 in the league."
With a 33-20 advantage out of the break, the Blue Raiders didn't let up in the second half.
The MTSU defense held UAB to 3-for-12 from the field in the first 10 minutes of the second half and allowed just one Blazer field goal in the last 8:30 minutes of the game.
"Coach Davis emphasized having perfect possessions on defense which means no missed assignments, no missed switches and when the shot goes up go secure the rebound," Upshaw said of the stingy defense. "As a team that's what we were focused on."
JaCorey Williams added 10 points and seven rebounds, while Giddy Potts added six points in the effort.
"We needed a taste of a win in our mouth. We hadn't won a game since the 14th of December. Over that period of time, you need that taste in your mouth of winning," Davis said of the conference-opening victory. "It was good against the defending regular season champions and a good way to start the year."
MTSU returns to action Thursday as the Blue Raiders travel to Rice for a 7 p.m. tip.