MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — When the clock hit triple zeroes, the Blue Zoo was loose.
The Middle Tennessee State student section rushed the court after their Blue Raiders’ big rivalry win over Western Kentucky, securing the Conference USA East Division title with a 69-52 victory on Saturday night in the Murphy Center.
— MT Athletics (@MTAthletics) February 27, 2022
Middle Tennessee (22-7, 13-3 C-USA) once again used its bench to its advantage, scoring 26 points with their reserves compared to just one bench point from a short-handed Western Kentucky (17-12, 9-7 C-USA), which had two starters miss the game. With the win, MT completed its fifth-ever perfect home season (barring any post-season play) and its first since 2012-13.
“That was an emotional game,” head coach Nick McDevitt said. “Just a lot of things going on leading up to the game, senior day, the winning streak that we’ve got at home, trying to win the East Division, you’re playing your rival. I thought our team did a pretty nice job of not getting too overly excited.”
Eli Lawrence led all scorers with 15 points, powered by a trio of three pointers. Camryn Weston was once again the bench ace, becoming the first ever Middle Tennessee player to record a double-double in which one of the categories was not points. Weston finished the night with seven points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He’s the third player in the country this season to have a game with 10 rebounds, 10 assists and no turnovers.
“That’s a big part of my game that I like to do, I like to get my teammates involved in everything,” Weston said. “So, if I see an open man, I’ve just got to hit him. It’s in my nature, pass first.”
DeAndre Dishman finished his senior day with 10 points and seven rebounds, adjusting brilliantly around WKU’s 7-foot-5 center Jamarion Sharp to keep the Hilltoppers honest in the paint until Sharp fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
“He’s blocking for everything, jumping for everything,” Dishman said about how to attack Sharp. “So even when my teammates attack, I know he’s going over to help. Or when I catch the ball, I can get him off his feet, (and try) to use the rim as my protection.”
Josh Jefferson finished the night with 10 points, after being the target of a relentless face guard in WKU’s box-and-1 (an unsurprising defensive choice, McDevitt noted, given Jefferson had 31 points in Bowling Green a month ago). Four more Blue Raiders finished the night with at least seven points, despite MT shooting just 39.1 percent from the floor as a team.
Middle Tennessee took a 39-30 lead into the locker room at the half, banging home seven threes to break WKU’s diamond-and-1 defense on Josh Jefferson. Eli Lawrence hit two of those triples en route to eight first half points, while Teafale Lenard was a beast in transition, scoring four of his eight first half points on the fast break.
MT never trailed in the second half, despite some decent runs from the Hilltoppers. The Blue Raiders were able to lock down on defense down the stretch, with Lawrence and myriad other Blue Raiders holding WKU’s Dayvion McKnight to 5-for-21 from the field, forcing the Hilltoppers’ leading scorer into tough shots all evening. When Sharp fouled out with 5:03, Middle Tennessee went on a 14-3 run from thereafter to put WKU away.
“It was great seeing Murfreesboro back in the Glass House,” McDevitt said of the season high 6,102 fans in attendance. “The student section was into it the entire game. Our folks are basketball fans. There were a couple of times where, if you were in the stands, things were a little uneasy. We had a 10- or 12-point lead and they cut it to four. The crowd got into the game, and we made a run right about that moment.”
MT will end conference regular season play with two more games on the road, starting on Wednesday evening at Charlotte. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. central.
- Middle Tennessee finished just its 10th multi-game season sweep of Western Kentucky in a series that dates back to 1914-15.
- Barring postseason play, the Blue Raiders finished with the fifth unblemished home record in program history and first since 2012-13.
- Camryn Weston recorded the first double-double with a single-digit point total in program history.
- Weston is the third player in Division I this season to record 10 rebounds, 10 assists and no turnovers.
- Josh Jefferson equaled the 10th-highest season total in program history with his 71st made 3-pointer of the season.
- Middle Tennessee ran its home winning streak to 17 games