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March 17, 2013

The drought is over - MT's going dancing

THE DROUGHT IS OVER:

For the first time in 24 years, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raider basketball team will put on their dancing shoes and waltz their way into the NCAA Tournament.

The Blue Raiders snagged a precious at-large bid Sunday night, having their school-record 28 win season validated with a No. 11 seed. MT will battle fellow No. 11 seed Saint Mary's in the opening round - dubbed the First Four. Tipoff is slated for 8:10 p.m. CT and the game will be played in Dayton, Ohio.

Tuesday's game will mark MT's seventh appearance in the big dance, where they hold a 2-6 all-time record.

For head coach Kermit Davis, this trip will be his third to the NCAA Tournament. Davis had previously taken the Idaho Vandals to consecutive trips in 1989 and 1990. However, his resume with the Blue Raiders was lacking the big dance appearance - but not anymore.

"It just feels so good, it feels good for our fan base," Davis said following MT's at-large selection. "It's been a long time coming. To put us in postseason three of the last four years and the taking the stepping stones up - to now having that much respect to get an eleven seed at-large, it kind of shows where our program has gotten to."

MT's selection into the field of 68 did not come without the drama, though. After bowing out in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament semifinals, MT's hopes and dreams rested on a slew of other teams - who they needed to lose.

Somehow, someway, the stars slowly aligned for the Blue Raiders, to the point where the feelings had shifted from "another blown opportunity" to "quietly confident." Needless to say, it was an emotional rollercoaster of a week.

"Coming in to it, we have all been stressed," senior guard Bruce Massey said. "There hasn't been much sleep in the last couple of days because we weren't sure if we were in or out. To see our name called early in the first bracket was a sigh of relief."

Junior guard Kerry Hammonds echoed Massey's sentiments.

"There was a lot of anxiety not knowing if we were going to play in the NCAA or the NIT," Hammonds said. "There is a lot of relief finally knowing we are going to the NCAA Tournament."

For Hammonds, the trip to the dance will be all the more special. His father, Kerry Hammonds Sr., was on the last Blue Raider team to go dancing - a team that knocked off fourth-seeded Florida State in the opening round.

"It means a lot," Hammonds said. "My dad has always told me about how fun it was and how he was the on the last team to get to the tournament. He always thought that we would get there, but it feels great to finally be in it."

With the selection behind them, the Blue Raiders have a very quick turnaround in front of them. Kermit Davis said the team will fly out first thing Monday morning and get a round of practice in as they begin preparations for Tuesday's matchup.

"It's going to be hectic, and we're fixing to go to work," Davis said. "We're going to talk to our team here in a little bit, and we may bring them back around 9 or 9:30 tonight to talk to them about Saint Mary's. It'll be a quick turnaround, but it'll be a quick turnaround for Saint Mary's, too."

For fans looking to make the trip with the Blue Raiders to Dayton, the BRAA will be sponsoring a bus ride to the opening round game. Fans are also encouraged to secure their tickets through the Blue Raider ticket office early Monday morning. The ticket office will open up at 7 a.m.



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