MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The Middle Tennessee men’s basketball team used a 13-7 push early in the second half to take a back and forth battle against North Florida Wednesday night, claiming a 77-70 victory inside the Murphy Center and tying the nation’s longest regular season home winning streak at 30 games.
South Dakota State also has 30 regular season home victories. The Jackrabbits have a chance to reclaim the top spot Thursday evening, hosting Montana.
The Blue Raiders move to 2-0 overall on the young 2013-14 slate and were paced by the performances of four Blue Raiders that reached double-digits in seniorShawn Jones, junior Marcus Tarrance, sophomore Jaqawn Raymond and freshman Reggie Upshaw, Jr.
“To look back and see what the past two teams have done before us and how they’ve really brought this program along, means a lot,” Upshaw said about extending the streak. If we let them down, then we’ll be letting down a lot of people.”
Upshaw posted the first double-double of his career and the first for a Blue Raider this season. In his second collegiate appearance, he scored 12 points, while corralling 10 rebounds. Tarrance and Raymond paced MT with 14 points apiece, while Jones 12 points and snagged six boards.
Early on, the Blue Raiders and Ospreys traded baskets and the lead, tying the score three times within the first three minutes, the last being at 7-all on a Jones dunk.
After the slam, North Florida’s offense ignited, rattling off an 18-8 run over the next 10 minutes of action. The Ospreys held a 12-point lead over MT with 6:45 remaining in the first half, the largest difference between the two teams on the night.
With little time to work, MT went to work, trying to whittle down the deficit. Upshaw hit his stride, scoring six points with two key defensive rebounds in the closing minutes. Middle Tennessee’s efforts got the difference to four points heading into halftime with the Ospreys holding the narrow 35-31 lead.
Opening up the second half, MT used three-pointers by Kerry Hammonds II, Tarrance and Raymond to close the North Florida lead to one with 15:38 remaining. Both sides battled, tying the game three more times with the last at 12:41, knotting the score at 51-51.
“For the second straight game we were able to play through some adversity,” MT head coach Kermit Davis said. “I thought North Florida was terrific. They’re very well coaches and he has some really good players and we saw it on film when they played Florida down to the wire and beat UALR the other night. They had us on our heels early, but we were able to make some adjustments defensively in the second half that gave us a better chance to defend them. Offensively we spread the ball out and shot a really good percentage.”
A perfectly aimed shot from the left corner by Raymond gave the Blue Raiders the lead for good on their next possession down the floor.
Middle Tennessee went on an 18-9 run behind the efforts of Tweety Knight and Tarrance. Knight kicked in six points, while handing out a game-high five assists. The Blue Raiders matched the 12-point differential posted by the Ospreys in the first half with 4:12 remaining.
North Florida did not let up, closing the gap to three points with 40 seconds to go. Raymond hit a layup with 17 seconds left to push the lead back to five and after a forced three-pointer by North Florida, Knight found Raymond for the outlet and was quickly fouled. Raymond hit the pair, giving MT the seven point margin over a tough North Florida squad.
“I thought Reggie played with lot of confidence tonight,” Davis said. He rebounded the ball well and you really saw his skill level tonight. He’s more comfortable at the four position so we had him there a lot tonight and to finish with a double-double in your second college game is huge for your confidence.”
Tarrance and Raymond each finished with a Middle Tennessee high 14 points, most of which came in the second half. Jones, who fouled out, finished with 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Hammonds added nine points for MT, going a perfect 4-of-4 from the charity stripe.
“We have a lot of areas for improvement, but I think it shows how we handle adversity,” Davis said. “I thought the crowd was great again tonight, especially for a Wednesday night in mid-November. They were a big part of our comeback, like they’ve been a big part of our success the last two years. I hope they’ll be a big part of a good college basketball game on Saturday when Akron comes in.”
Each side finished fairly equal statistically with MT holding the slight advantage in field goal percentage with 51-percent to UNF’s 43-percent. Both the Blue Raiders and Ospreys totaled 36 rebounds, while MT made the difference with 30 defensive boards to UNF’s 10 offensive rebounds.
UNF was led by Travis Wallace with 18 points to go along with nine rebounds, while Chris Davenport tallied a double-double of 10 points and 11 boards. Jalen Nesbitt also added 10 points.
The Blue Raiders return to action Saturday, Nov. 16, hosting Akron at 2 p.m. inside the Murphy Center to continue their four-game homestand.
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