This is Flashback Frank of the Rutherford County Historical Society.
Wow. March 11, 1982. MTSU Men’s Basketball has the task of playing Kentucky in the NCAA tournament at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium with the winner advancing to play Louisville.
Most felt it was a forgone conclusion that Kentucky would win handily thus setting up a showdown game with Louisville.
But MTSU had a trump card – the colorful Coach Stan Ramrod Simpson, MTSU men’s basketball coach from 1979-1984.
Ramrod was a very, very imaginative coach along the lines of former MTSU Men’s basketball coach Jimmy Earle, Auburn’s Sonny Smith, even University of Tennessee’s Pat Head Summit. Coach Simpson was ALWAYS a source of entertaining quotes.
When asked about what gave him the most trouble about preparing for the powerful Kentucky Wildcats, he replied with a grin, "Well, the winner of our game is going to advance to face Louisville in the next round. It’s very hard to keep our kids focused and keep them from looking ahead to Louisville."
Strong rebounding and a tenacious defense propelled the Blue Raiders to a six-point thriller, holding Kentucky to 37.5% shooting from the field.
MTSU was completely out-manned, but never out-classed. Middle held the Wildcats to their second-worst offensive output of the season, and sent UK high-tailing it home to Lexington.
“We pride ourselves on good defense, and tonight I didn’t think we could play it THAT well,” Simpson said. “But, our defense took Kentucky completely out of their game. I didn’t think we could take them that much out of their game.”
The game was tied 30-30 at the half. But Blue Raiders fans could sense something special was in the making.
Momentum swung back and forth as the 22-7 Blue Raiders eaked out a 44-40 lead with 12:29 to play behind the hot outside shooting of Rick Campbell, who hit 8 of 16 shots and had 19 points and the strong inside play of Jerry Beck. Still, the game could have gone either way.
Rebounding was paramount as the Blue Raiders pounded the glass and pulled 36 rebounds to the much taller Kentucky’s 27.
At the final buzzer, the Blue Raiders prevailed 50-44.
MTSU’s first NCAA Tournament march ended with the next game against the University of Louisville with the Cardinals defeating the Blue Raiders 81-56.
39 years later, this singular game is still much talked about. Simply a historic night.
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