MIAMI, Fla. – Middle Tennessee battled a tough offensive performance to a 71-66 overtime win Thursday night at FIU behind a season-high 25 points from senior guard Giddy Potts.
Leading scorer Nick King finished with 17 points and 10 boards for his third double-double of the season, but was ineffective early on until collecting seven of MT’s 13 overtime points to help earn the win.
The Blue Raiders experienced perhaps their worst half of the season in Miami, getting off to a slow start with six turnovers leading to six FIU points and contributing to an early 12-5 lead for the Panthers.
“We just came out a little slow tonight,” junior David Simmons said. “FIU got a lot of 50-50 balls and a lot of buckets in transition and that hurt us early.”
Brandon Walters finally ended an 8-0 FIU run with a free throw before a Potts 3-pointer pulled MT within three. Edward Simpson tied things up at 14 less than two minutes later but the Raiders would never regain the lead in the first half.
The Panthers eventually opened their lead back up to seven at 26-19 but the Blue Raiders held them scoreless for the final 3:22 of the half to climb within four at the break.
Middle Tennessee’s 21.9 percent (7-of-32) performance from the field in the first half stands as their worst of the season as 20 points in the paint and 10 points off turnovers for the Panthers helped lead to their halftime advantage. The Blue Raiders did collect seven steals on nine FIU turnovers before the break, but turned those nine turnovers into just three points.
“I don’t know if being on the road has caught up with us or what but we’re just lethargic right now,” head coach Kermit Davis said. “Just from the get it didn’t feel right and I’ve never seen a team have a worse start offensively.”
FIU came out of the break looking to hold the momentum as a 5-0 start gave them their largest lead of the game at 31-22, but Middle Tennessee began to hit their stride after that as a 12-4 run brought them back within a point with 14:45 remaining.
The Panthers were able to hold their lead for the time being, but with 12:17 left in Miami the Blue Raiders finally tied things back up at 39 apiece. The teams traded baskets the next two trips down and back to bring the score to 43-43 before a David Simmons free throw at the 9:23 mark gave MT its first lead in over 26 minutes of game time.
FIU quickly took the lead back with a 3-pointer in what remained a tightly contested game the rest of the way. FIU would never regain the lead in regulation, but four more ties including a score of 58 all as the clock expired led the Blue Raiders and Panthers to overtime.
FIU went on to score the first three points of overtime to lead 61-58 before MT clamped down defensively to outscore the Panthers 13-5 in the final four minutes to escape FIU Arena with the win.
David Simmons logged one of his best outings of the season off the bench for the Blue Raiders, collecting a career-high 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.
“David Simmons came up really big for us tonight off the bench, we would not have won this one without him,” Davis stated. “He really provided the spark we needed tonight and put up some really good numbers for us.”
“When I come off the bench I really try to provide that spark,” Simmons added. “Some nights that’s scoring, some nights it’s passing and some nights it’s rebounding. Tonight the team needed me to help out by scoring and providing that spark off the bench.”
Middle Tennessee is back in action Saturday just up the road in Boca Raton. The Blue Raiders and Florida Atlantic tip at 4:00 p.m. CT in the last game of a seven-game stretch away from home.