NORFOLK, Va. – In a battle for first place Thursday night between Conference USA’s top two defenses, Middle Tennessee won out in a 66-59 thriller to move to 9-0 all-time against Old Dominion.
The Blue Raiders (17-5, 9-1) are now 9-1 on the road and continue to lead the nation in true road wins. The Monarchs (16-5, 7-2) were held just 36.8 percent shooting and 20 percent from three on the night and were hammered on the boards by the Raiders, 40-29.
“This was just a typical game between these two teams tonight,” head coach Kermit Davis said. “We talked all day about how we were going to go through pockets of adversity and have to fight through it and we did. To outrebound this team by 11 and hold them below 37 percent from the field was really what it came down to.”
The Road Raiders came out of the visiting locker room firing on all cylinders, opening up an early 12-4 lead after an Antwain Johnson triple got MT on the scoreboard first at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
Old Dominion would push back against the stingy Blue Raider defense, which entered the game allowing an incredibly low, league-best 58.3 points per game in conference play, pulling within three before another 3-pointer by Johnson made the score 19-13.
A pair of ODU free throws at the 3:18 mark finally gave the Monarchs a tie for the first time since the game was still scoreless, but James Hawthorne untied it on the ensuing Blue Raider possession with a 12-foot jumper off the glass.
The Monarchs then reeled off four straight to take their first lead of the game before Johnson ended the first half scoring with a jumper from the wing.
The Greenwood, Fla., native notched 14 of his season-high 18 points before the break, leading all scorers through 20 minutes and at the game’s conclusion. Johnson also added four rebounds, four assists and a steal on the night.
“Really I just wanted to come out, be aggressive and do whatever it took to get the team off to a good start,” Johnson said. “We knew from the beginning this was going to be a physical game and we had to come out and hit first.”
After a first half that featured very few ties and lead changes, multiple occurred to open up the second half. A David Simmons triple, just his second of the season, put MT up 44-42 before and alley-oop from Johnson to Brandon Walters made the score 46-42 with 11:30 to play.
Middle Tennessee would go on to hold the lead until the 6:31 mark when an ODU steal and slam put them up 51-50 on their home floor and send the home crowd into an uproar.
The Blue Raiders’ senior leaders quieted the crowd right back down as a jumper by Giddy Potts, old-fashioned 3-point play by Nick King and another Potts pull-up led a 7-2 MT run to make the score 59-56 in favor of the Raiders with 2:05 remaining.
Another layup by King put the Blue Raiders up five and forced the Monarchs to start fouling as a 5-of-7 effort from the line in the final 51 seconds pushed MT over the top in Norfolk.
King recorded his sixth double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds while Potts recorded 12 points and three boards. Walters finished with six points and Simmons added five off the bench for MT.
The Blue Raiders complete their road trip Saturday at Charlotte in a 6:00 p.m. CT tip at Halton Arena. The contest can be streamed on C-USA TV.