Friday, July 3, 2020

MSU shocked by Middle Tennessee in first round of NCAA Tournament

March 18, 2016
Head coach Tom Izzo talks to senior forward Matt Costello  during the game against Middle Tennessee State University on March 18, 2016 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo. The Spartans defeated Raiders, 90-81.
Head coach Tom Izzo talks to senior forward Matt Costello during the game against Middle Tennessee State University on March 18, 2016 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo. The Spartans defeated Raiders, 90-81. —
Photo by Sundeep Dhanjal | and Sundeep Dhanjal The State News

The No. 2 seed MSU men's basketball team was shocked by the No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 90-81.

Five Blue Raiders finished in double figures, led by 21 points from junior forward Reggie Upshaw and 19 points from sophomore guard Giddy Potts.

MSU was led by 22 points and nine rebounds from senior forward Matt Costello, 14 points from senior guard Bryn Forbes and 13 points and 12 assists from senior guard Denzel Valentine, but it wasn't enough to fend off the Blue Raiders.

The game could very well be the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history, but after the game, MSU head basketball coach Tom Izzo wasn't making any excuses.

"Well, I need to start out by saying I thought Middle Tennessee played awfully well," Izzo said. "They started making threes fall down from 30, and they outplayed us. I mean, there's now way I can put it any differently. They deserved to win. They were very well coached. They ran good stuff. We just really struggled to guard the smaller guys on the perimeter and struggled to find lineups."

The Blue Raiders stormed out of the gates early, using hot shooting to take a quick 15-2 lead at the 15:29 mark of the first half. This prompted an early timeout from Izzo.

The Spartans came back and at one point cut the Blue Raider lead to one, 23-22 with 8:01 to go in the half. However, Middle Tennessee caught fire again and went up by nine, 35-26, off of back-to-back 3-pointers from Upshaw with just over five minutes left in the half.

From there, the Blue Raiders went to the half with the 41-35 lead off an 8-of-12 shooting performance from behind the 3-point arc during the first 20 minutes of action.

The Spartans opened up the second off and quickly closed the Middle Tennessee lead to two, 45-43, with 17:23 to go in the game.

However, for the majority of the second half, every time MSU chipped away at the Middle Tennessee lead, the Blue Raiders would pull back away. At the halfway mark of the second half, the Blue Raiders held a 65-57 lead on the Spartans.

This trend would continue for the second 10 minutes of the half as well. Twice MSU cut it to a one-point lead, the second time being 77-76 with 3:31 remaining, only to see Middle Tennessee come back with buckets of their own.

"Once that time starts winding down and you like ‘when are we going to get over this hump?'" MSU junior guard Eron Harris said. "And it never happens, they keep making big play after big play, it’s just demoralizing and before you know it, you just realize there’s not enough time left."

Middle Tennessee then went on to win, 90-81. The Blue Raiders never trailed in the game.

The Spartans came into the game thought by many as a team which had a chance to win the entire tournament, leaving several of MSU's players distraught after the game.

"I've got a lot of emotions running through my head right now," Valentine said. "I mean, I'm more mad and disappointed because I know what this team could accomplish. ... That's probably one of the worst games we played all year, and it happened to be in the first round. You can't have that if you want to win championships. ... And today it fell apart. And just sucks right now because I know the capability our team had."

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