MTSU – 74
FAU – 70
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The #25 FAU Owls were in The Glass House Thursday night and The Blue Raiders had not only an opportunity to avenge a tough loss to those Owls in Boca Raton, but also to beat a ranked conference opponent. Scoring droughts and allowing Johnell Davis to run wild is what cost Middle in their first meeting with FAU earlier this season. MTSU had not hosted a ranked opponent since 2008 and were going to have to lock in on those two keys if it was going to be a ranked win for The Raiders which they had not done since their NCAA Tournament upset of Michigan State in 2016.
After a couple of empty possessions by both teams, FAU quickly jumped out to a 10-2 lead. Seven of those points came from three turnovers by Middle before we had even made it to the 15:00 mark. The Raiders came out of the first timeout with an energy they did not show in the first five minutes, forcing three turnovers of their own and taking a 13-10 lead. MTSU seemed to be playing FAU’s game which usually is not a good sign when teams have such different styles, but they were playing it well in the first 10 minutes, shooting 60% from deep and leading 21-19. Middle was playing as the aggressor. They wanted it more and it was showing itself in the form of a 13-2 run. With 3:36 to play in the first half, The Raiders had a 31-25 lead. One of the scoring droughts that Middle needed to avoid allowed The Owls to scrap their way back into the game on a 7-0 run, and at the half FAU led 32-31.
Middle was going to have to start the second half the way they played for the majority of the first and stop the slide that began late in the first. The Raiders were able to maintain their level of energy that allowed them to be so successful earlier as Tee Lenard skyed for a massive alley-oop dunk. That dunk fueled a first four minutes that was dominated with a 10-2 run by Middle. At 11:43 a steal and King layup pushed it to a 16-2 run for The Blue Raiders as FAU had not scored since their first attempt of the second half. Head Coach, Dusty May, had seen enough and called a timeout as The Murphy Center erupted. The Middle bench came across the floor firing up the fans.
They were in control over a ranked conference opponent and could feel it. All that was left was to finish the job. As we reached single digits on the clock, Middle was up 15. MTSU Head Coach, Nick McDevitt preaches mental toughness to his team for situations just like that. Being at home against a ranked opponent, and up 15 with an opportunity to close, you cannot make mistakes. McDevitt has said multiple times this year, “A weaker team folds there” referring to different in-game situations. The Owls were bound to push back with their national rank on the line. What would his team do here?
With 5:31 to play, FAU had cut the lead down to nine, and then seven 4:22. Middle needed to respond. FAU continued to chip away and, with 2:30 remaining, MTSU’s lead had been cut to five. Then Elias King hit a huge three to extend the lead back out to eight. Both teams traded baskets and time began to be a factor for the Owls who, with a minute left, began to foul. The usually reliable Dishman missed the front end of the one-and-one and after a quick Owl layup, it was a four-point game. Middle would have to hit free throws to close it out. Two from Bufford made it 70-64 Raiders, but a FAU three cut the lead to 70-67 with 34 seconds remaining. After an FAU timeout, The Raiders were going to have to be perfect for the last half minute that would almost certainly feel more like half an hour. With 2.7 seconds on the clock, Middle had to inbound the ball with a three-point lead and make one free throw to end the game. The inbounds were successful but the first free throw by Lawrence missed. Lawrence had to make the next one to seal it for Middle and with all the pressure on him he drained it to give MTSU a 74-70 win over The FAU Owls.
This is what Head Coach, Nick McDevitt, had to say post-game:
The Blue Raiders’ next game is against FIU, in Murfreesboro, at 5:00pm on Saturday.