The Blue Raiders have had some memorable wins under head coach Kermit Davis. Like in any coach's tenure though, there are a few losses that really stand out because of the opportunities that could have been available to the program with a different outcome.
Today, we continue our countdown to tipoff series with a look at our choices for the top five near misses in Blue Raider basketball over the last six years.
1) Middle Tennessee 57, Denver 58
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March 5, 2006, Murphy Center, Murfreesboro
What happened: After working to secure a first round bye in the conference tournament that the Blue Raiders were hosting in a renovated Murphy Center, just about everything went wrong in a one point quarterfinal loss to Denver. Star shooting guard Adam Vogelsburg blacked out just minutes before the game due to a migraine headache and was unable to start the contest. Middle Tennessee still was able to spurt out to an 8-0 lead behind strong play from true freshman center Theryn Hudson, but by halftime Denver led by five. The Blue Raiders found a way to inch ahead in the second half though and held the lead for most of the final 20 minutes, but disaster ensued on the last play of the game when MT had a one point lead. Denver inbounded the ball with just three seconds left to guard DaShawn Walker for what was going to be an attempt at a game winning buzzer beating 3-pointer. Blue Raider forward Marcus Morrison defended it perfectly and blocked the shot, but the ball fell right in the arms of Denver center Yemi Nicholson, who had time to rise up for an easy layup to win the game. Kermit Davis calls this game the most difficult loss of his career.
What might have been: Middle Tennessee would have faced South Alabama in the semifinals the following day if it could have held on against Denver. With a day to recover for Vogelsburg, the Blue Raiders may have been in better rhythm against the Jaguars, who ultimately won the tournament championship. Tournament matchups against South Alabama and a potential championship game against Western Kentucky inside Murphy Center could have been magical nights for the program.
2) Middle Tennessee 68, Louisville 76
December 20, 2005, Freedom Hall, Louisville (Kent.)
What happened: In the opening game of Louisville's Christmas tournament, the Blue Raiders nearly spoiled the party against a team that had advanced to the Final Four the previous March. Despite trailing by nine points at halftime and by as many as 15 early in the second half, Middle Tennessee made a stirring rally that at one point closed the gap to three points with less than four minutes remaining. Five Blue Raiders reached double figures in the upset bid and Kyle Young recorded a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
What might have been: A win over Louisville certainly would have generated national headlines for the program and may have been enough to at least get the Blue Raiders in the discussion for an NIT bid at the end of the year. Instead of finishing the year 16-11, Middle Tennessee would have been 17-10 with a win over a national power on its resume.
3) Middle Tennessee 52, North Texas 59
March 5, 2007, Cajun Dome, Lafayette (La.)
What happened: After a pair of upsets over Troy and top seeded South Alabama, Middle Tennessee came up just short in the semifinals against North Texas. Redshirt freshman Desmond Yates led the team with 12 points in what was a rugged defensive struggle, but the Blue Raiders could never completely get over the hump in the second half. The most memorable sequence came when it appeared Middle Tennessee was going to tie the game with just more than five minutes remaining. Tim Blue missed a dunk attempt though, allowing North Texas to get in transition the other way, where guard Ben Bell buried a 3-pointer to push the lead back to five points. The Blue Raiders never got closer than that the rest of the way.
What might have been: A win over North Texas would have set up a championship game showdown with Arkansas State, a program the Blue Raiders had defeated six of the last seven times they played. It could have been the most improbable league championship in the program's history, as Middle Tennessee entered the Sun Belt Tournament as the number nine seed with a 13-16 overall record.
4) Middle Tennessee 57, Western Kentucky 67
March 11, 2008, Mitchell Center, Mobile (Ala.)
What happened: With the Sun Belt title at stake, Middle Tennessee point guard Nigel Johnson encountered serious foul trouble almost right away against the Hilltoppers. Still, the Blue Raiders were able to gain as much as a seven point first half lead. But without floor leader Johnson on the court, the offense was without its catalyst and eventually ran into major trouble against Western Kentucky's intense defensive pressure. By halftime, the Hilltoppers had gained a three point lead. Johnson ended up fouling out for Middle Tennessee with 10 minutes remaining, which essentially ended any remaining Blue Raider hope.
What might have been: Two weeks after the title game loss, Western Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and put a healthy scare into eventual Final Four participant UCLA. Middle Tennessee would not have been seeded as high as WKU in the NCAA Tournament, but knowing they had played a Sweet 16 team to a 10 point game with Johnson only on the floor for 14 minutes fueled a big offseason fire for the Blue Raiders.
5) Middle Tennessee 83, Western Kentucky 85 (OT)
February 24, 2005, Diddle Arena, Bowling Green (Kent.)
What happened: In a back-and-forth struggle, Middle Tennessee was victimized by Courtney Lee at the buzzer in overtime. In the final minute of regulation, Mike Dean made a jumper and a 3-pointer to force overtime for the Blue Raiders and point guard Bryan Smithson made what was almost a game winning play in the extra five minute period. With the Hilltoppers up by two points and trying to run time off the clock, Smithson picked off a pass and took it the length of the floor for a layup plus a foul. His free throw gave Middle Tennessee an 83-82 lead with 16 seconds left on the clock. On the final possession, WKU point guard Antonio Haynes skipped a cross court pass to Courtney Lee on the right wing. Blue Raider forward Michael Cuffee lunged at the pass to try to deflect it, but couldn't reach the ball. With the opening available to him, Lee buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win the game and foreshadow what was to come for the Sun Belt over the next three years of his college career.
What might have been: A win would have given the Blue Raiders an inside track at landing the East Division's two seed in the conference tournament, an achievement that would have garnered them a first round bye. With the loss, Middle Tennessee drew the three seed in the East, which set it up for a quarterfinal game against defending conference champion Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin Cajuns eliminated the Blue Raiders. From the two seed position, Middle Tennessee would have had a much smoother path to the conference championship game and would have been opposite of both UL-Lafayette and Western Kentucky in the bracket.
GoMiddle.com Countdown to Tipoff
40 days-October 6th: Schedule full of challenges, opportunities
39 days-October 7th: Sun Belt newcomers to watch
38 days-October 8th: Strong memory motivates Yates
37 days-October 9th: Kanaskie in position to leave a legacy
36 days-October 10th: Johnson driving force behind MT attack
35 days-October 11th: O'Neil hopes to pick up where he left off
34 days-October 12th: Boyd's long awaited debut getting closer
33 days-October 13th: Allen may be MT's missing piece
32 days-October 14th: Hudson aiming for quick recovery
31 days-October 15th: Williams can be a first year factor
30 days-October 16th: X-Factor Hair could push Raiders over top
29 days-October 17th: Green's contributions important for MT
28 days-October 18th: Lighter Haddock making big early impression
27 days-October 19th: Jones adjusting to new level
26 days-October 20th: Avery is a glue man for Blue Raiders
25 days-October 21st: Hopson brings plenty of value
24 days-October 22nd: Inside a scouting report with Artie Pepelea
23 days-October 23rd: Case has bright outlook in new post
22 days-October 24th: Top five wins of Kermit Davis era
21 days-October 25th: Top five near misses of Kermit Davis era