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March 14, 2012

MT Rides Onto NIT 2nd Round

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For the first time since 1988, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raider basketball team won a postseason tournament game.

In front of raucous crowd inside the historic Murphy Center, MT defeated the Marshall Thundering Herd 86-78 to earn the right to play the University of Tennessee in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

In typical Blue Raider fashion, they secured the win with timely shots and crisp ball movement, while playing smothering defense for both halves.

The Blue Raiders were led by Sun Belt Player of the Year LaRon Dendy, who paced the Blue Raiders with another double-double - posting 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Dendy didn't do it alone though as four Blue Raiders reached double figures. All four contributed in spurts where the Blue Raiders needed someone to come up big.

Game Breakdown:

Junior forward JT Sulton came out hot in the first half and paced the Blue Raiders out of the gates., posting 14 of his 16 points in the opening frame.

Middle led from the onset, and would never relinquish the lead for the entire contest. The Blue Raiders opened the half on an 8-0 and held Marshall scoreless for nearly four minutes before a Nigel Spikes jumper got the Thundering Herd on the board.

Marshall cut the deficit to three at the 13:50 mark before another 7-0 run by the Blue Raiders got the lead back to double digits.

As the two teams traded buckets for the remainder of the half, MT got some valuable minutes from their bench, particularly out of sophomore forward Shawn Jones.

Jones came in and posted six of his 15 points during that stretch, while also making his presence known on defense with a block and a steal.

MT would go on to close out the half with a 39-30 advantage.

When the second frame opened up, the Thundering Herd let it be known that they were not going to let MT walk through them. A pair of buckets from Nigel Spikes cut the lead to four, but that is when the "Puerto Rico Assassin" Raymond Cintron entered the picture.

After being held without a field goal in the first half, Cintron erupted in the early goings of the second half, posting 10 points in the first eight minutes of the half, including a pair of three pointers that helped get the lead back into double digits for MT.

Once Marshall started adjusting to cover the perimeter, MT took advantage with their workhorse - Dendy.

With MT leading 48-40 at the 16:34 mark, Dendy put the team on his back for the next five minutes, scoring 10 of MT's 14 points during that stretch.

"Coach Davis told me I had to get more physical, that I was shooting too many jump shots," Dendy said. "I felt like he was right because he always is, so I just took it down low, and it worked out for me, and helped our team out."

That stretch resulted in the Blue Raiders completely taking over the contest. MT would extend their lead deep into double digits, capping it off at the 8:31 mark with a James Gallman three pointer that brought the lead to a game-high 21.

Head coach Kermit Davis was very impressed with his teams effort from the opening frame to this point in the game.

"We had a lot of respect for Marshall going in," Davis said. "Their RPI was the best of any team not in the NCAA. For 33 or 34 minutes, we played about as good as we've played all year."

The Thundering Herd, however, did not let the deficit phase them, as they proceeded to go on a 14-3 run to cut the lead back to single digits at nine with 4:54 left in the game.

As the lead grew smaller, MT began to tighten up on defense, and Marshall took full advantage of it. A three pointer by Damier Pitts, followed by a layup by Shaquille Johnson trimmed the lead to just five with 1:43 remaining.

That was as close as Marshall would come though. Shaquille Johnson got a good look at a three-point basket but the ball caromed off the rim and fell into the waiting hands of MT guard Marcos Knight, who then caught Sulton streaking on the fast break for a thunderous dunk, putting an exclamation point on the night.

"It starts when we go back on defense," Sulton said. "We knew we had to get a stop because they were making some tough shots. My teammates just saw me open. I ran the floor like I always do, and I just dunked the ball."

Whereas the Blue Raiders bowed out in the quarterfinals of the SBC Tournament thanks to five straight misses from the free throw line, MT found their touch in the final moments against Marshall, going 4-4 from the line to secure the 86-78 victory.

The Stat Sheet:

The Blue Raiders shot 52% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc while Marshall shot 46% from the floor and 42% from downtown. The Blue Raiders tallied 23 assists on their 32 field goals made while Marshall was limited to eight assists on 27 baskets.

Four Blue Raiders reached double figures - LaRon Dendy posted 18 points while JT Sulton, Shawn Jones, and Raymond Cintron put up 16, 15 and 12, respectively. Point guard Bruce Massey was impressive against Marshall as well, posting seven points, seven assists, and nine rebounds. Senior guard Jimmy Oden was flashy with his dishes in the game, posting eight assists including a highlight reel alley-oop to Dendy from just inside the half-court line.

The Thundering Herd had five players reach double figures Tuesday night. Damier Pitts led the way for Marshall with 19 points while Dennis Tinnon posted 18. DeAndre Kane was limited to 13 points on just three field goals and Shaquille Johnson and Nigel Spikes put up 11 and 10 to round out the scoring.

Marshall was known as a dominant team on the glass all year long, but the Blue Raiders out-rebounded the Thundering Herd, 38-36. Both teams snagged 12 offensive boards.

MT's bench came to play Tuesday night as well, outscoring Marshall 25-16.

MT clipped Marshall in just about every other tangible statistic. In points in the paint, MT dominated 50-36. In points off of turnovers, MT held a 14-6 advantage. On fast break buckets, MT outscored MU 10-2.



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