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January 23, 2010Sign-up for InsideHilltopperSports.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
Not even a week ago, this was supposed to be a team on the ropes.
Middle Tennessee had just dropped two games in a row at home, to Florida Atlantic and Florida International, nonetheless and sat at 8-10 overall.
On Monday, WKU, the overwhelming pick for pre-season Sun Belt Champion, was supposed to defeat the 'reeling' Blue Raiders handily.
How things have changed in a week's time.
The Toppers are now reeling after getting outplayed all-around the visiting Blue Raiders. MTSU led by as much as 17 points and swept the regular season series from WKU with an 84-74 win. It's the Blue Raiders' first such sweep since 1975.
Now, the Toppers are the ones with the question marks.
"It's definitely disappointing, just the feeling that we had in our gut from the last game," senior guard A.J. Slaughter said. "We really wanted to get back to this game. To not win it, in front of our home crowd, with a great turnout tonight and on national television, it's really disappointing. We've gotta go back and learn from this and I think it'll help us out in the end stretch of the year."
The shooting touch was on for the visitors. Early on, it was senior forward Desmond Yates, who scored 11 of MTSU's first 17 points. All came consecutively.
It wasn't long until the Toppers found themselves down 22-11 nearly midway through the first half. WKU closed the gap and took a 30-28 lead with 1:38 in the first half, before the Blue Raiders scored five in a row to lead 35-30 at halftime.
"We withstood a run, we knew they were gonna have it," Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. "We withstood that one and we got a start the first four minutes. We just kept talking about winning media timeouts, to 16, 12, eight and four. It was big not to let them, because we've been here with some leads and they'll go on an 8-0 run to end the half."
MTSU held steady with the lead to begin the second half and then exploded for an 11-0 run that gave the Blue Raiders a 55-40 lead with 10:49 left. It was a hole the Toppers couldn't climb out of. The closest they would come the rest of the way was a 74-67 deficit with 1:47 remaining.
Yates finished with a game-high 28 points and became MTSU's all-time leading scorer
"I think there is some effort out there," coach Ken McDonald said. "I think there is some energy and we're trying. Are we executing on defense? Are we executing on offense? Probably not and definitely not because you've got three in a row that you've lost. There's still a lot of room for improvement and we have to keep focus of the little things that are hurting us in games and making us lose."
McDonald had his own bit of frustration as he was whistled for a technical foul with under a minute to play.
He couldn't have been any more frustrated than Slaughter, who had 20 points, but shot just 5-16 from the floor. Junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew had a team-high 22 points.
"I wouldn't say nobody's down on confidence," Slaughter said. "It's just, we had a couple of looks tonight that didn't fall on the offensive end and kinda helped lead to their runs. I wouldn't say it's confidence, I think it's a little bit of us not hitting shots that we normally hit and not getting defensive stops."
WKU has now lost three straight games for the first time in three seasons. But the Toppers aren't panicking just yet.
"There's no reason to panic," Pettigrew said. "We've got a lot of upperclassmen. We've been through all this and we've just gotta keep our heads up and keep trying to fight to our goal at the end of the year. We have a three-game losing streak right now, but we've just gotta stay together with everybody in our locker room and just get prepared and be ready."
Maybe not, but the ropes WKU leaning on are getting pretty tight.
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