The Best Team Won: MTSU Takes Care Of Business With 81-72 Win Over Minnesota

Proving to be the better team, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders took care of business in defeating Minnesota 81-72 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Blue Raiders struggled in the opening moments as Minnesota jumped to a 7-0 lead. Still sleepwalking a bit, MTSU was able to find their scoring touch with an 11-2 scoring run to cut the Minnesota lead to one single point.

That run lit a fire under the Blue Raiders and they started to finally look comfortable in the spotlight. Instead of the big three taking control of the game, it was Brandon Walters who looked like a bat out of hell. The little known junior was given multiple chances to extend the MTSU lead and did so with ease. His ability to make his open shots turned what was once a seven point deficit into a nine point lead at 37-28.

After a Gophers three-pointer in the final minute of the first half, the Blue Raiders went into the break leading 37-31.

Despite being an afterthought in the opening half, a confidence killer for lesser players, senior Reggie Upshaw knew that he would be needed in the second half. He calmly took Upshaw scored seven of the Blue Raider’s first ten points in the second half and the rout seemed to be on. MTSU pulled ahead by as many as 17 points at the 12 minute mark, but Minnesota was not ready to go away that quickly. The Gophers roared back and actually cut the MTSU lead to 62-58 with just over six minutes left in the game.

Needing a basket badly, of course Upshaw was the man in nailing a rare shot from behind the arc to extend the lead back to seven points. That shot was the kill shot for Minnesota as they pulled no closer than six points the rest of the way.

If not for a couple of garbage time shots by Minnesota in the final minute, the score would have looked much worse than the final 81-72 margin. The best team won and it happened to come from Conference USA.

The most impressive part of the win for MTSU was the fact that they won comfortably despite a less than stellar game from star JaCorey Williams. The Arkansas transfer was only 4-14 from the field for 13 points in the win. His teammates raised their play in response with the #12 seed connecting on 48.3% of their shot attempts.

For the Blue Raiders, they advance to the Round of 32 for a winnable game versus Butler. The Bulldogs were given all they could handle in their first round game versus Winthrop before pulling away at the end. MTSU versus Butler has potential to be one of the best games of this year’s tournament and gives the Blue Raiders a very good chance to reach the Sweet 16 in Memphis.

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