King, Potts and Walters shine in road win at Vanderbilt | @MTAthletics
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Middle Tennessee stretched its winning streak against in-state foe Vanderbilt to three games Wednesday, traveling to Nashville and leaving with a 66-63 win.
The victory was the fourth in a row overall for the Blue Raiders (6-1) and marks the first time in program history they’ve won three straight over the Commodores (3-6). It was also the fourth win in a row overall for MT over Southeastern Conference opponents.
“That was just a physical, at times not a real pretty, basketball game,” MT head coach Kermit Davis said. “It was a really good road win for us … I’m proud of our guys.”
It was a much tighter affair than the 2016 version of the matchup, when on Middle Tennessee’s home court the Raiders cruised to a 71-48 victory.
Neither team led by more than seven points in the first half, and after the break the story was much of the same. The Commodores held a 32-28 lead at the intermission and the spread never got to more than six points in the second half.
As the clock ticked under four minutes to play, Vandy held a 56-55 lead after hitting a 3-pointer. That’s when one of Middle Tennessee’s senior leaders stepped up and hit a big bucket.
Edward Simpson caught a pass from fellow senior Giddy Potts on the left wing and unleashed a deep shot over a defender, cashing in to give MT a two-point lead that it wouldn’t squander. It was Simpson’s only basket of the contest.
“Ed Simpson and Giddy Potts have been in a lot of big games the last four years,” Davis said. “I think that experience helped us down the stretch.”
Simpson’s 3-pointer was just the second for the Blue Raiders in the game. They finished just 3-of-14 from behind the arc, but did plenty of work inside to make up for it.
They outscored the Dores 36-22 in the paint and won the rebounding battle 39-33, including 14 boards on the offensive end that led to 14 second-chance points.
King finished with 23 points, his sixth game in a row with 20 points or more, on 7-of-18 shooting from the field and 9-of-11 from the free-throw line. Walters had 16 points, a career high, shooting 7-of-10 from the floor. They led the team with six rebounds apiece.
The chemistry King and Walters have created in the post has been the surprising strong suit for Middle Tennessee offensively early this season.
“Playing with Big Brandon … he clears out a lot of room in the paint not only for me, but the guards, too,” King said. “Like I tell him all the time, when he takes his time no one can stop him in the post.”
Potts was the other MT player in double-figure scoring with 16, and he also had a team-high five assists to go with four rebounds and a steal.
The Blue Raiders’ blue-collar offensive game plan was matched on the defensive side. Vanderbilt managed to shoot just 37 percent in the game and 29 percent (9-of-31) in the second half.
“That was really kind of the game,” Davis said. “I think both teams really fought hard on the defensive end.”
With the win, Middle Tennessee, which was ranked sixth in the country in the latest NCAA RPI, moves to 4-0 on the road this year and have now won seven consecutive true road contests dating back to last season.
The Raiders will go back home for a Saturday contest, when another SEC opponent, the Ole Miss Rebels, will travel to Murfreesboro for a 5 p.m. tipoff.
“With this win, we just have more hope and it makes us want to work even harder,” Walters said. “We’ll look at what we executed and messed up on, and correct it and get things right for the next game.”