With a trip to Honolulu and the Diamond Head Classic championship game on Saturday (12/23/2017), Middle Tennessee turned in one of their better performances of the season before falling just short to Preseason Top 10 team USC by a score of 89-84. On Christmas night (12/25/2017) Miami downed MTSU
with an 84 - 81 thriller. All of the Blue Raider games were on WGNS (AM 1450, FM 100.5, FM 101.9).
Christmas Nigh Game
Senior forward Nick King had game highs in points (28) and rebounds (11) to log his second double-double of the season and the Blue Raiders shot just shy of 50 percent from the field and 3-point range in the narrow loss to their fourth Power 5 opponent of the season.
"Nick played his tail off today," head coach Kermit Davis said. "28 points and 11 rebounds is a high-level game around the rim against (Chimezie) Metu and (Bennie) Boatwright who are really good players. (USC head coach Andy Enfield) has a really good team."
One glaring difference in the box score in the tightly contested battle was the disparity at the free throw line, where USC went 33 times compared to just 14 trips to the stripe for Middle Tennessee.
"The difference was at the free throw line," head coach Kermit Davis said. "When you get outscored at the free throw line 26-11 that's the game. They're a talented team and that was a heck of a college basketball game but if you look at the stats the difference in that game was the free throws."
After a lackluster start against Princeton on Friday, the Blue Raiders opened up against USC with a blistering start as an Edward Simpson triple put them on the board first. MT hit five of its first seven shots in the contest to take an early 12-5 lead on the Trojans with a breakaway slam by King serving notice that the Raiders were here to play.
A short drought allowed USC to bring the score to 12-10 at the 13:55 mark, but King broke MT out of the slump with a jumper before 3-pointers by Antwain Johnson and MT 3-point king Giddy Potts pushed the Blue Raider lead back to seven at 20-13.
Trojan turnovers contributed to the early success for the Blue Raiders as they had logged 10 points on five USC turnovers through the first 12 minutes, but free throws and a lop-sided foul count kept USC close.
The Trojans took their first lead of the game, 36-35, at the free throw line at the 4:57 mark. Just over two minutes later, however, MT's leading scorer put the Blue Raiders back on top. King's triple from the wing gave MT a 42-39 advantage before going into the locker room leading 43-42.
The Raiders shot 56.7 percent (17-of-30) from the field and 50 percent (5-of-10) from beyond the arc before the break, but USC's 15-of-18 effort from the free throw line thanks to a 12-7 foul count in favor of the Trojans left them down just one at halftime.
Middle Tennessee started off the second half making four of their first seven attempts from the field to open up a 54-45 lead over USC, but a 10-0 Trojan run quickly gave them a 1-point advantage at the 12-minute mark.
Traded baskets brought the score to 64-62 with just over eight minutes remaining before a terrorizing slam by Brandon Walters and a layup from underneath the rim by King gave MT the lead back. USC then answered with an 8-0 run to retake the lead, one that they wouldn't give up in the final seven-plus minutes.
The Trojans would soon open up their largest lead of the game moments later at 75-68, but the Blue Raiders weren't done battling just yet as a pair of King free throws, a breakaway dunk by Potts and two more free throws from Johnson pulled MT within two at 76-74 with 4:04 left on the clock.
USC responded with a triple to extend their lead to five and wouldn't allow MT to get any closer than three as they closed out the five-point win.
Antwain Johnson added 15 points for the Blue Raiders while Brandon Walters and Giddy Potts tallied 11 each.
Middle Tennessee will return to the Stan Sheriff Center on Monday to face the loser of Saturday night's contest between Miami and New Mexico State at 7:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU in the third place game of the Diamond Head Classic.