"We were fortunate to win. It's great that we are 6-2, but we've got to get much better."
- Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis
Middle Tennessee got back in the win column with a 63-60 victory over visiting Arkansas State Thursday night, but not without a difficult struggle in the final four minutes that nearly saw the Blue Raiders lose an 11 point lead.
MT led 59-48 with 3:48 remaining in the game but didn't score again until Nigel Johnson made a free throw with two seconds remaining.
In between, the Red Wolves scored nine straight points to cut the lead to 59-57 with seven seconds remaining.
The Blue Raiders won thanks in large part to Montarrio Haddock's first career double-double performance.
The junior college transfer recorded 17 points and 12 rebounds and put the MT offense on his back for a key portion of the game early in the second half.
The game certainly reached a nailbiting stage for MT in the final seconds, but the Blue Raiders turned back a similar ASU run earlier in the second half. The Red Wolves stormed back from a 36-24 deficit to make it 42-40 with 12:54 remaining in the game. The Blue Raiders responded with a 10-0 run to go ahead 52-40 and provide the needed breathing room for the final minutes of the game.
G DeMario WilliamsClick Here to view this Link.-Williams played 17 minutes and arguably deserved more for his efforts. He didn't turn the ball over and made a key play in transition as part of the pivotal 10-0 second half run that separated the game. Williams stepped up in a big way on a night when Demetrius Green was disappointing.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Kanaskie-Kanaskie played through back pain, receiving treatment at nearly every timeout. He still played 38 minutes and had three assists with no turnovers, along with nine points.
Season Star Count
TALE OF TWO HALVES
Desmond Yates controlled the first half for the Blue Raiders. The second half belonged largely to Montarrio Haddock.
Yates scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half and carried the offense nearly by himself for much of the first 20 minutes.
Haddock, who scored just six first half points, came on strong with 11 in the second half to help pick up the slack for Yates, who made just 1-of-7 shots from the floor in the second half.
"Haddock had some good buckets ... (he) was our best player tonight and was very active," MT head coach Kermit Davis said. "Even the shots he missed were great shots."
While he contributed some to MT's struggles in the final minutes, the Blue Raiders would not have won without him and they were fortunate to have him stay out of foul trouble and play 29 minutes.
"Most of my rebounds came off my own misses," Haddock said. "They didn't box me out so I just got it back ... If I stay out of foul trouble (I can be effective)."
MT has struggled to close out games in the final minutes over the last three contests. The Blue Raiders survived a scare against ASU but lost at Western Kentucky and UALR due in large part to failing to execute in closing possessions on both ends of the floor.
"I'm really disappointed in the way our senior guards are playing ... we didn't play like senior guards in the last five minutes of the game, that's for sure," Davis said.
Nigel Johnson turned the ball over five times, including twice in the final minutes in particularly careless fashion. The sloppiness in the final stages of the game can't all be laid at the feet of backcourt play though.
Haddock let a pass bounce right off his head to lead to a turnover and Yates missed the front end of a 1-and-1 in the closing seconds that allowed the Red Wolves to get within striking distance.
The Blue Raiders will take the win, but they'll also spend a lot of time thinking about the need to close games in stronger fashion if they want to remain a contender for the league championship.
"We've got to finish games," Yates said. "We were up 11 with about three minutes to go and we just stopped completely. We're going to watch the film tomorrow and see what we did. We're going to learn from it but we've got to do better at closing out games."
WILLIAMS CARVING HIS ROLE
DeMario Williams did more than just play a solid 17 minutes in the win. He may have helped stake a spot in the rotation for the stretch run of this season. The freshman played more minutes against ASU in part because of Demetrius Green's struggles, but he earned more court time over the last 10 days on the practice floor, according to his coach.
"DeMario Williams has been our best practice player for the last week and a half," Davis said. "He's been the guy most eager to come to the gym and he sure played like it and that's why his minutes went up. Really we were better when he was on the floor and I should have kept him on the floor at one of the three guard spots even down the stretch. That is something we will look at against (New Orleans)."
The work ethic Williams has displayed in practice has certainly encouraged Davis, but he is also a bit discouraged by the fact that Williams' enthusiasm doesn't seem to carry over right now to some of the veterans on the roster.
"We just talked about that in our locker room for a long time," Davis said. "It's encouraging because (Williams) has got this bright eyed, bushy tailed look and I wish Demetrius Green, Calvin O'Neil and a couple of these other guys had that same demeanor about them wanting to come to practice. We've been a good practice team but I'm talking being eager as heck to want to get to the gym and get better."
Williams tried his coach's patience a couple of times during Thursday's game, shooting a couple of ill advised shots in the first half but Davis kept him on the floor and that decision paid off as Williams made a few key plays on both ends to help MT win.
"He plays at a fast pace," Davis said. "He'll shoot (bad shots) and do some things sometimes but that's just what a freshman does. At least he's wide open. He is 100 miles per hour and I like that."
IN THE CLUB
Prior to Thursday's game, Kanaskie and Yates received commemorative basketballs in a short ceremony at halfcourt, honoring their recent achievements of surpassing 1,000 career points at Middle Tennessee.
Yates and Kanaskie are the first active teammates to each have 1,000 career points in 16 years.
"I'm happy to be a member of (the 1,000 point club) and I know Kevin is happy to be a member of it," Yates said. "I'm just happy to come here and be productive at this school. Coming in nobody thought I would be that productive so I'm happy coach believed in me. All the coaches believed in me but especially Coach Davis so I'm happy that he has pushed me and Kevin to be able to be productive at this school."
Jan. 24: Middle Tennessee at New Orleans, 7 p.m.