MTSU – 89
WKU – 93
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Middle Tennessee traveled the 100 miles of hate between Murfreesboro and Bowling Green to renew the rivalry of the same name. It was going to be a tough environment for Middle going into WKU on white out night. It was going to take physicality and focus to get out of Western with a conference road win.
It was not an ideal start for Middle as WKU jumped out to a 13-6 lead. The Raiders were getting looks and out-rebounding Western but couldn’t finish. Meanwhile, it didn’t seem WKU could miss. Western was able to maintain the lead as both teams began to trade baskets. Middle began to settle in but, but at this point, they had work to do. They were going to have to find a way to swing the momentum. A big three from Tyler Millin and two long jumpers in a row from Cam Weston got MTSU back within seven with six minutes to go, but it was going to take better defense from MTSU to truly get back into the game. Nick McDevitt shook things up going with a full court pressure defending the inbounds pass. This immediately rattled The Hilltoppers as Middle got two quick turnovers and the lob that you can watch below.
Cam ➡️ Eli ➡️ Oop 🔥 pic.twitter.com/T2f1irYLPR
— MT Basketball (@MT_MBB) February 10, 2023
Middle felt reenergized – you could see it in their body language, until three technicals were called on Middle in a row giving Western six free points. Two calls were for sportsmanship, and one was for flopping. MTSU was now down 45-33 with one minute to go, but could not afford to get down mentally. Cam Weston, who had been Middle’s best player was on the bench with three fouls and Porter picked up his third just before the half. MTSU’s guards were in deep foul trouble. The halftime buzzer went off giving MTSU a much-needed opportunity to adjust and refocus down 49-39. Middle was shooting 50% from the field and 40% from three. They were not playing badly, but the 11 points of free throws for WKU and The Hilltoppers shooting at nearly 60% was the difference.
The second half, like the first, did not start well for The Raiders. WKU extended their lead out to 16 and Middle was forced to call a timeout. Middle continued to make headway with the press but the times where Western was able to beat the press almost always ended in points as WKU continued to shoot at a 60% clip. Around the 9:30 mark, WKU began to cool off and Middle was able to cut the lead to 10. At 8:30, an Eli Lawrence dunk cut the lead to eight as Middle had mounted an 8-0 run. Cam Weston’s three-point-play cut Western’s lead to five and extended the run to 11-0. The Blue Raiders had shown incredible fight, determination, and mental toughness. They were rewarded at 3:31 when Deandre Dishman made two free throws to put Middle in the lead for the first time all night at 79-78. After some back and forth five Blue Raiders were in double digits but Middle was down four. With a minute left, MTSU was forced to foul and after both free throws, Western increased their lead to 88-82. Dishman was able to cut the lead back to five and it was going to come down to fouls and the charity stripe. Despite Middle making threes, time was not on their side as WKU converted their free throw attempts to stay ahead and close out the game with a final score of 93-89.
Dayvion McKnight led all scorers with 33, while Eli Lawrence led MTSU with 21. Lawrence led all players with seven rebounds, and Jairus Hamilton led WKU with six. Camryn Weston led all players with ten assists while McKnight led Western Kentucky with five.
This is what Head Coach, Nick McDevitt, had to say post-game via GoBlueRaiders.com:
“It was just a couple of errors in the last two minutes – really it was about the three-minute mark to the one-minute mark… We stepped out of bounds, turned it over. They scored four or six in a row from the free throw line. We just didn’t get a clean rebound at critical moments… There was a defensive breakdown that led to a layup for [Dayvion] McKnight. When you’re on the road, you can’t have all those. And they made some difficult shots tonight. I told our team when the other team is making some shots that the film and the stats say they don’t normally make, then your margin for error goes down. That doesn’t mean you can’t still win the game, but you just can’t have those errors and win on the road.”
The Blue Raiders’ next game is against UAB, in Birmingham, at 3:00pm on Saturday.