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December 21, 2008
"It was a complete team win and we had to play well. I thought the second half was as good of 20 minutes as we have played in a long time."
Desmond Yates paced four Blue Raiders in double figures with 18 points, but he was far from alone in producing a quality performance.
MT received contributions from up and down the roster and never trailed on its way to the victory, which now sets up a game with host Missouri State for the tournament championship Monday night.
The Blue Raiders led by as many as 26 points in the second half.
Middle Tennessee held a comfortable lead the entire game but the Spartans did make one run to cut the halftime lead to a manageable nine points when they outscored the Blue Raiders 10-5 over the final 6:30 of the first half. MT put the game away with an immediate surge to open the second half. In less than four minutes, the Blue Raiders went on a 14-4 run to open up a 19 point lead and remove all doubt about the game's outcome. Yates and Demetrius Green keyed the run. Green hit a pair of 3-pointers and Yates had six points during the run, including a perfect 4-for-4 in two trips to the foul line.
F Desmond Yates: Yates enjoyed another efficient offensive outing with 18 points in just 27 minutes. He also had another solid game rebounding the ball and had three of MT's 16 offensive rebounds, an area Kermit Davis has constantly pleaded with him to improve.
G Kevin Kanaskie: Kanaskie still seems to be searching for his normally reliable shot, but the senior played a complete game with 11 points, five assists, and a team leading eight rebounds and two steals. Kanaskie has played 73 minutes of a possible 80 in the first two games of the tournament.
G Demetrius Green-Green was a force offensively both with his jump shot and his drive. He hit three big 3-pointers and posted 17 points in just 25 minutes. He continues to display good body control on drives to the basket when most players would lose their balance on shot attempts.
Honorable Mention: Nigel Johnson-Anybody that questioned Johnson is the most important piece to this team should reconsider. Johnson looked the healthiest he has looked since the Vanderbilt game and the Blue Raiders played perhaps their best game. Johnson had six assists in 33 minutes.
Season Star Count
Yates (21) Green (14) Kanaskie (12) Haddock (8) Johnson (5) O'Neil (4) Avery (1)
Nigel Johnson is not 100 percent, but he looked as close as he has to it in a long time Sunday afternoon. The effect on his teammates was clear. Johnson controlled tempo, accelerating it at times to give the Blue Raiders easy baskets. He dished assists and made good defensive plays. His shooting percentage was off (2-for-6) but Davis and the rest of the coaching staff will gladly take that number if it means Johnson resembles his old self prior to the MCL sprain he suffered at Vanderbilt.
Johnson played a game high 33 minutes and seemed to enjoy his longest pain free stints of action since the game against the Commodores. When he is on the floor moving well, the Blue Raiders' entire identity on both ends of the floor changes for the positive.
ON THE BOARDS
MT didn't just win the rebounding battle. It dominated the glass thoroughly on both ends. The Blue Raiders had six players record at least three rebounds and six players have at least one offensive rebound.
The result was a 20-8 lead in second chance points and a 34-14 advantage in the paint. MT missed 27 shots in the game but offensive rebounded 16 of those misses. The Blue Raiders enjoyed this productive rebounding performance without the aid of Theryn Hudson, who played just two minutes due to what Davis implied after the game was a decision to be cautious with Hudson's injured foot.
RESTING UP FOR A CHALLENGE
One advantage of having a big second half lead was that Davis was able to provide some rest for his minute devouring warriors. Kanaskie played 33 minutes, a low total by his standards, and Yates played just 27 after playing 39 against UC-Irvine Saturday. Kanaskie and Johnson were the only Raiders to play more than 30 minutes and the team got positive bench contributions from Dino Hair and especially Montarrio Haddock.
Haddock enjoyed his second straight quality performance at the tournament and continued his recent strong play with 11 points and six rebounds in just 20 minutes. Hair had one of his most active games in a long while. He pulled four rebounds and scored five points in 12 minutes, earning praise from Davis in postgame.
Dec. 22: Middle Tennessee at Missouri State, 8:35 p.m.