MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The Middle Tennessee men’s basketball team (3-0) yet again, used a second half performance to pull away from the Akron Zips (1-2) Saturday afternoon in the Murphy Center and claim a 80-73 win, extending the nation’s longest active regular season home winning streak to 31 games.
The lead flipped back-and-forth four times within the first five minutes of the second half as the contest between the Blue Raiders and Zips saw nine lead changes and things knotted up eight times. However, MT took the lead for good in the second half after Tweety Knight drove through the lane for a layup with 14:39 left to give MT a 46-45 advantage.
Middle Tennessee then pushed its lead to 52-45 thanks to five points from Jaqawn Raymond and a made free throw by Reggie Upshaw, Jr., at the 11:17 mark. However, Akron continued to challenge MT, cutting the lead down to one with 10:24 remaining as the Raiders clung to a 52-51 lead after two Zip free throws.
The Blue Raiders expanded their lead to 11, the largest of the game with 4:49 remaining. Shawn Jones nailed four consecutive free throws for MT, hitting 12-of-14 from the line for the game, a career-high.
Akron continued to challenge and cut the Raider lead to four with 30 seconds left to play, after a deep three-pointer by Quincy Diggs. After a quick timeout, Knight gained possession of the ball and was fouled immediately, but missed both free throws, opening the door for Akron.
The Zips missed a layup as Jones snagged the defensive board, drawing a foul in the process and sending him to the line to shoot two. Jones missed the first freebie, but drained the second, putting MT up 78-73 with 16 seconds left.
Akron attempted to speed up the floor, but Knight swiped the ball away from Zip point guard Jake Kretzer and took off in the other direction. Kretzer fouled Knight on the layup, but it was not enough as the basket dropped. Knight missed the free throw, but the Blue Raiders claimed the seven-point victory and moved to 3-0 on the season.
“It’s good to get three big wins over good teams,” Jones said. “We can’t ever be disappointed with that, but to get where we want to go at the end of the season, we’re going to have to have a few games in our pocket at the five minute mark. But you’ll have to win some close games too at some point so it gives us a lot of confidence that we can do it. It also shows us how tough we are as a team.”
“We got from Akron what we thought we’d get,” said MT head coach Kermit Davis. “They’re such a well-balanced, very well coached team. They’re just tough; I’m a huge fan of Akron coach Keith Dambrot and his staff. I thought our team, for the third game in five days, in a tough game like this, had a really hard fought, good win against a team that definitely has a chance to win the MAC.”
After a grueling back and forth first half, both sides were knotted at 33-33 at the intermission. In Middle Tennessee’s first three games of the young 2013-14 slate the halftime score has been a combined 66 points in each affair. Coming off the first half the Blue Raiders were shooting 14-for-27 from the floor for 51.9-percent, including 4-of-6 from behind the arc. The Zips, who stayed close with the Blue Raiders, posted 50.0-percent from the field and tied the score four separate times.
Overall, Jones paced the Blue Raiders, recording his first double-double of the season with a career-high 24 points to go along with 12 rebounds. His previous career-best was 21 points, coming against Texas Southern Nov. 24, 2012.
Kerry Hammonds II and Raymond provided 17 points apiece for MT with the latter coming off the bench, while Knight added 11 points and dished out a game-best five assists. Hammonds and Raymond both went 3-for-4 from behind the arc, while Raymond was also a perfect 4-for-4 from the line. Despite four Blue Raiders scoring in double-digits, Akron’s Diggs finished with a game-best 26 points.
On the night, MT shot 56.3-percent from the floor, including 54.5-percent from long distance. The Blue Raiders were 64.5-percent from the charity stripe, connecting on 20-of-31. Akron was 47.4-percent from the floor and 30.4-percent from three-point range. The Zips were 12-for-18 from the line for 66.7-percent.
The Blue Raiders won the battle of the boards, outrebounding Akron 32-29. However, the Zips still managed to score more second chance points than MT, 19-12. The Zip bench outscored MT’s bench 22-20, while Akron had 10 fast-break points, compared to MT’s six.
The Blue Raiders return to action Monday, Nov. 18, hosting UALR at 7 p.m. inside the Murphy Center to close out a four-game homestand.