FRISCO, Texas. – Middle made it to the semifinal round of the C-USA to take on the No.1 seed FAU Owls; a team they split their season series with. It was going to be crucial for Middle to not allow FAU to pull away early. Middle was coming off an emotional one-point win late last night over Charlotte and needed to come out with energy.
Middle started out 1-8 from the floor which was not going to be good enough against this Owls team. While the Raiders were struggling offensively they were still able to keep FAU within striking distance and not let them run away. Jared Coleman-Jones provided a small boost to the offense but Middle’s inability to make a three was keeping them from putting any kind of pressure on FAU
Whether it was fatigue or not, Middle was going to have to find a way to get some production going on offense. The Owls had played the night before as well and came out with much more energy. At the four-minute mark, FAU opened up a 19-6 run which was exactly the scenario MTSU needed to avoid. With 3:15 to play in the first half, Middle was down 32-16 needing a run. Ten of their 16 points were from their bench partially due to foul trouble but mostly due to an overall lack of production. It seemed nothing offensively was working and even the layups would bounce on the rim 3…4…5 times before slowly falling off the iron and into the talons of an Owl for a defensive rebound. One way to fix that is to get up and put the ball home and that’s exactly what Deandre Dishman did at the buzzer with an emphatic putback slam.
To start the second half, Dishman and Elias King scored the first eight points for Middle including their first three ball of the entire game on the tenth attempt. The urgency had ramped up and Middle looked like a brand-new team. Before the 15-minute mark, the Blue Raiders had cut the FAU lead to just four on the back of a 14-2 run. With eight minutes left in the game, Middle (who was once down by 16), was now down by just five. With 3:30 to go, Dishman converted a tough two that not only gave him a double-double, but more importantly tied the game at 57. Keeping mistakes to a minimum was going to be crucial in the last three minutes.
WE’RE TIED pic.twitter.com/i7BmYBkQLO
— MT Basketball (@MT_MBB) March 10, 2023
Middle was not able to avoid those mistakes as fouls put them in a hole. With 33 seconds left and down four, Middle needed a couple of missed free throws from the Owls. They were able to get one and a massive three from Justin Bufford cut FAU’s lead to 64-62. Down by two now and with no timeouts, Middle needed one more miracle with Johnell Davis at the line. Davis made both and the Blue Raiders’ offense looked disorganized. It looked like the game was over until Brufford hit ANOTHER three this time fading sideways and got fouled.
Bufford nails the @LeeCompany three and gets the foul!
He misses the free throw but the ball is out on FAU and it’s MTSU ball with 11 seconds to go. Down 1⃣. pic.twitter.com/oqYmalA6pw
— MT Basketball (@MT_MBB) March 10, 2023
Brufford went to the line with a chance to tie and missed. However, the rebound went out of bounds off FAU giving Middle a chance to take the lead! Dishman got a clean look at a layup but could not convert. MTSU was forced to foul and after both free throws had one last chance at a tie. The Raiders got an excellent look from Cam Weston but came up just short falling in the semifinal 68-65. The Blue Raiders showed amazing heart, fight, determination and mental toughness, and have nothing to be ashamed of as a great season comes to a close.
Johnell Davis led all scorers with 18 points, and Deandre Dishman led MTSU with 17. Dishman also led all players in rebounds with 11, while Alijah Martin led FAU with six. Cam Weston led all players with six assists. Bryan Greenlee led FAU with three.
This is what Head Coach, Nick McDevitt, had to say post-game via Goblueraiders.com:
“I think our team showed a lot of toughness and grit and fight again this morning and this afternoon. Last night, had a lot of fight and some of the breaks went our way. The big shots, the timely shots, we made them and we advanced. Tonight, I thought we did a lot of really good things, gave ourselves a chance to win.
“You’re battling through a lot of adversity. You’ve got a lot of guys playing hurt, the ones we know about and the ones that some don’t know about that are playing through some pain. To go out there and give yourself a chance to win through that, through some foul trouble, through being down double digits. I just was really proud of their fight, and how hard they played and how together they played. There at the end, sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way.”
According to Goblueraiders.com Nick McDevitt explained that, “Middle Tennessee has been invited to post-season play, but will await a decision on accepting the invitation until a later date.”
MTSU – 65
FAU – 68