Giddy Potts admitted this time it meant a little more. The hate is back in the 100 Miles of Hate rivalry, which made Middle Tennessee’s 82-64 Conference USA title clinching victory all the more sweet Thursday night.
The Blue Raiders have dominated Western Kentucky in recent years, but the Hilltoppers took them down to the wire in their first meeting back in January and remained just a game back of MTSU in the league race entering the night. WKU head coach Rick Stansbury stoked the flames this week when he suggested Big Red fans might overtake the Murphy Center for the rematch.
Both Middle Tennessee and its fans were ready for the rematch.
The Blue Raiders raced to a 7-0 lead behind five quick points from Antwain Johnson, and the junior guard banked in a three at the halftime buzzer to push the lead to nine.
Johnson finished with 17 points, but it was the seniors that helped Middle pull away in the second half. The inside duo of Nick King and Brandon Walters scored 18 a piece as the Blue Raiders shot 55 percent for the game.
Fellow senior Giddy Potts hit three huge first half threes to help Middle build its early cushion and finished with 11 points in the team’s 11th consecutive victory.
The win gives the Blue Raiders back to back Conference USA regular season championships and the top seed in the league tournament next week in Frisco. It also gives the Blue Raiders a fourth quadrant one win which could go along way towards their NCAA at-large hopes if they aren’t able to secure the conference’s automatic bid.
It shouldn’t matter, because if you watched this performance it’s clear Middle Tennessee is a NCAA Tournament team. And just like the squads that upset Michigan State and Minnesota the last two seasons, this team has staying power.
Potts, who will celebrate senior night Saturday along with King, Ed Simpson and Brandon Walters, said he hasn’t gotten too emotional about the end of his career because he feels this team still has a lot of basketball left to play. If they keep playing like this, nobody is going to want to see them in their bracket.
That two week old ranking next to their name isn’t a fluke. The Blue Raiders look like a top 25 team, and play in an elite atmosphere inside the 11,000 seat Murphy Center that was packed and rocking from the opening tip to the final horn to see their team cut down the nets for the fourth time (two regular season, two tournament titles) in the past three seasons.
And best of all it came against their rival. Western Kentucky is good enough to bring the hate back to the series, but Middle Tennessee still has bragging rights.