MTSU – 66
Charlotte – 65
FRISCO, Texas. – MTSU opened up tournament play, with a spot in the C-USA semifinals on the line, against the Charlotte 49ers on Thursday. Middle had split the two games this season against Charlotte with a point differential of 140-129, so although the Raiders were the higher seed it would still take their full focus and effort to get past the Niners, especially in March.
Both teams started off sloppy in what was both of their first games of the tournament as the fourth and fifth seeds, but it seemed Charlotte shook off the rust first as they went on an early 18-2 run. They led by as much as 13 as Middle struggles to make shots and when they missed could not get any second chance opportunities. The Raiders’ first offensive rebound was not secured until the 6:30 mark. The Raiders had dug themselves a hole and they were going to have to find a way to crawl out or they would be going home without a post-season win and the season would be over.
Coach McDevitt preached mental toughness all year long and this game was an example of why. These lessons paid off as Middle was able to mount a 15-0 run of their own. The Halftime break came at the end of this run and suddenly Middle was tied with the 49ers in nearly every statistical category, but trailed on the scoreboard, 28-26.
As the second half began, MTSU continued the momentum it had started in the first and at 19:11 took their first lead since they led 5-3 with 17:35 to go in the first half. Middle grew their lead to as much as seven but couldn’t quite pull away as Charlotte made the shots needed to stay on their heels. The 49ers retook the lead 50-49 with eight minutes to play, and we were in for a fistfight the rest of the way.
With four minutes to play in someone’s season Middle found themselves down by just two thanks to some heroics from Cam Weston. A TV timeout was called and the response coming out for Middle would be crucial. A bucket from Charlotte followed by two turnovers was probably not what Coach McDevitt was looking for. Despite that, Tea Lenard flew high above the rim for a huge slam to bring MTSU within two with 2:17 to play.
T puts some juice into the putback! Within a possession now! pic.twitter.com/kMtQqbnMTa
— MT Basketball (@MT_MBB) March 10, 2023
A big three was made by Charlotte to push their lead to five but Cam Weston loaded up and hit an even bigger one to keep it a one-possession game. After getting a stop, Nick McDevitt called a timeout with 28 seconds left down 65-63. With the season on the line, Cam Weston hit an amazing fading three to take a one-point lead and Charlotte took a timeout of their own.
CAM HITS AND WE LEAD
13 seconds left! Timeout Niners! pic.twitter.com/tXhdqrx9Kh
— MT Basketball (@MT_MBB) March 10, 2023
The 49ers inbounded the ball with eight seconds to go and The Raiders defended the possession perfectly to end the game on a 6-0 run in a nail-biting finish to a great basketball game winning 66-65.
Cam Weston led all scorers with 22 points. Aly Khalifa led Charlotte with 14. Khalifa led the Niners with seven rebounds as well, while Deandre Dishman led all players with nine. Khalifa led all players with four assists, and Weston is credited with leading MTSU with one.
This is what Head Coach, Nick McDevitt, had to say post game via Goblueraiders.com:
“I’m proud of our group. I just thought we stayed tough and together. I just told the team in the locker room, they kept saying it in the huddles and then would go do it. It just wasn’t words about ‘Hang in there! Next play! Next play!’ We got down 18-5, and they had been playing well. A soft team, weak team kind of folds it up and gets their tails whipped. I just thought we hung tough.
“Obviously, Eli Lawrence was out of the lineup tonight due to injury, so this was the first time we had started that lineup all year. We kind of felt like there was going to be some bumps early in the game, just with a new lineup, new substitution pattern, new faces out there early in the game. I thought our guys just handled it well.
“Both teams at the end started making shots, trading baskets. (Brice) Williams made a big shot. (Lu’cye) Patterson made a big shot. And both times, this guy right here (Camryn Weston) answered both. Sometimes, you’ve got to have a guy that can get you out of the gym, and this guy right here got us out of the gym tonight.”
Goblueraiders.com also got Cam Weston’s thoughts on his game winner:
“The design of the play was really to get me downhill, try to get the And-1 if I needed to or just get close to the bucket. But a well-coached team is going to play great defense at the end, so it just played right into my hands. I just had to do what I had to do.”
How soon did you know it was going in?
“Right when it left my hand really. It felt good from the start. I just watched it go in and felt overwhelmed when it did.”
The Blue Raiders’ next game will be on Friday at 11:30 in the Semifinals against the No.1 seed In the CUSA Tournament, the FAU Owls.