NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Middle Tennessee State opened this year’s NCAA Tournament as the selection committee’s 12-seed, which was a slap in the face to Blue Raiders Coach Kermit Davis and his 30-4 team, a team one poll ranked No. 25 in the country. Going 1-1 this week in Milwaukee, they finished 31-5.
So for the uninformed, the Blue Raiders’ 81-72 win over Big Ten Minnesota gave them validity and a ticket to meet 4-seed Butler in the second round Saturday.
A win would have advanced them to the Sweet 16, high cotton for the Blue Raiders.
They allowed Butler to open the scoring and MTSU never tied, nor led the Bulldogs.
Granted, they didn’t play their best for whatever reasons, but you can put Butler’s defensive matchups and schemes at the top.
Middle Tennessee lost 74-65 after a late game rally came up short.
Veteran Reggie Upshaw had averaged 24 points a game in the last six games during the season. His field goal percentage was 56 percent.
When Butler built a lead, Upshaw was zero for his first eight shots from the field. Butler’s defense handcuffed him. Upshaw finished with 12 points, hitting five of 10 from the field, two of six from 3-point land.
After the game Davis told Upshaw he loved him.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more favorite guy. Winning affects everything. How he’s represented all of us, the fans love him.
“He broke the all time winning record for 99 career wins which is unbelievable. … But the way he carried himself, he means an awful lot to me,’’ Davis said.
Middle’s Giddy Potts was not giddy as he started 0-8 from the field and the other two starters combined for 0-5 from the field. The Blue Raiders bench scored 33 points.
Davis’ team had an off night, but again credit Butler for throwing them off their game.
“Butler played terrific,’’ Davis said after the loss. “We kind of chased them the whole game. … We chased them and fought it and fought it and fought it and got it back to a one possession game and they just made a big 3 when the game was 3.’’
Butler led 36-31 at halftime, allowing the Blue Raiders to hang around.
MTSU managed a 7-0 run in the second half to pull within 59-56, but that was as close as it got.
“We’re all heartbroken,’’ Davis said. “We wanted to get back to our home state in Memphis and play in the Sweet 16.
They were one win short. Butler took their ticket.
Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.