Middle Tennessee Defends Conference Championship Title - Mar 13, 2017
Middle Tennessee was positively giddy Saturday night, in more ways than one. Giddy Potts (6'2''-G-95) scored 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds to help MT defeat Marshall, 83-72, and win the Conference USA Men's Basketball Championship presented by MetroPCS. The victory touched off a familiar giddy celebration for the Blue Raiders, who are returning to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. 'There's nothing better than going out as a champion,' said MT senior forward Reggie Upshaw (6'8''-F-95) Jr., who had 15 points and eight rebounds. 'This is something I'll be able to talk about for years to come, to be able to say that we won the regular season championship and then took care of business in the tournament.' Potts sank a 3-pointer 53 seconds into the game, and Middle Tennessee (30-4) never relinquished the lead after that. The Blue Raiders scored the first seven points and galloped out to a 13-2 lead, as Marshall (20-15) made only one shot from the field in the first seven minutes. 'In the opening minutes, we guarded about as well as we can guard. We made them take tough shots,' MT head coach Kermit Davis said. 'But give Marshall a lot of credit. They played at such a high level. They competed hard and made us earn everything. We beat a really good team that was playing really well.' Indeed, despite the slow start, the Thundering Herd kept the game close and trailed 40-32 at halftime. Marshall then used an 8-3 run early in the second half to close the gap to 53-51 with still 12:50 to play. But the Herd failed to score on two consecutive possessions in which they could have either tied the game or taken the lead. Middle Tennessee then scored four straight to build a 57-51 cushion, and later put the game away with a 9-0 run in only 80 seconds to take a 70-56 lead. MTSU's game-clinching run began following a timeout, during which Upshaw said the team pulled itself together defensively. 'In the huddle, everybody was chipping in comments trying to uplift the team,' Upshaw said. 'I was trying to tell everybody that we know where we want to be. We wanted to be back in the (NCAA) Tournament, and the way to do that was to close this game out. 'We know what kind of team we have, and we know when we really lock in on the defensive end we can shut down players and create tough shots for them.' The Thundering Herd had five players score in double figures, led by C.J. Burks (6'3''-G) with 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting. But the rest of the team went 20-for-55 from the field (36.3 percent), and overall the Herd was 14-of-40 in the second half (35 percent). 'We just didn't shoot as well as we usually do,' said Marshall junior guard Jon Elmore (6'3''-G), who scored 12 points but was 2-for-9 from 3-point range (he was 10-of-25 the rest of the tournament). 'The whole tournament we've been kind of burning the nets down, making everything. But tonight we started out slow and didn't shoot well at all.' When Middle Tennessee won this tournament last year, Upshaw called it, 'the best memory I will ever have as far as basketball is concerned.' Then his team went out and defeated Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Now Upshaw and the rest of the Blue Raiders have created yet another wonderful memory. 'This one has topped last year, just because of the season we've had,' Upshaw said. 'Thirty wins is a big accomplishment for any college basketball team. It really speaks volumes about our team, and not just being satisfied with what we did last year.' In fact, with another appearance in the NCAA Tournament on the horizon, the Blue Raiders still aren't satisfied. As Davis said, 'Our team thinks we have a lot of basketball left, and that's going to be our mindset this week.' C-USA Tournament Final: Middle Tennessee - Marshall 83-72 C-USA Tournament Semifinals: Middle Tennessee - UTEP 82-56 Marshall - Louisiana Tech 93-77
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