Middle Tennessee is heading to the Conference USA Championship Final after the Blue Raiders pulled off yet another upset with a 53-50 victory over second-seeded UTEP in the semifinal round.
The Blue Raiders will face the winner of top-seeded LA Tech and fourth-seeded UAB in the C-USA Championship Final on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT with the game broadcast nationally on Fox Sports 1.
MT will play in their ninth-ever conference title and second final with Head Coach Kermit Davis at the helm.
The Blue Raiders weathered an early storm that put them down eight points and settled down and to go 6-of-8 from the field to pull within three points before the eight minute media timeout.
MT went on a 7-0 run while holding the Miners scoreless for over seven minutes as the pace started to favor the Blue Raiders and their defensive style.
Despite buckling down on the defensive end, MT went into halftime down 25-20, shooting 30 percent from the field. The Blue Raiders forced seven first-half turnovers but were out-rebounded 21-17.
Darnell Harris came off the bench lead the team with seven points and seven rebounds before the halftime buzzer.
The Blue Raiders started the second half strong, stringing together a 7-0 run that tied the game at 29-29 after a Reggie Upshaw layup.
DJ Jones made a difference on both ends as the half rolled on as he helped make a big stop with the Blue Raiders trailing by one and then turned around and recorded back-to-back 3-pointers to boost MT to a 40-35 lead with eight minutes remaining in the game.
That sparked a 10-0 run with Jones recording eight-straight points for the Blue Raiders.
“This is our third really physical game against a really well-coached Conference USA team,” Davis said. “Our buckets were hard to come by, DJ Jones really gave us such an unbelievable lift.”
Jones knocked down four treys in a six minute span to give MT a 49-44 lead with three minutes left in the game.
Middle Tennessee held out down the stretch to secure its place in the C-USA title game in the team’s second year in the conference.
“I told these the guys that we have a special run in us, if we keep practicing like we do, something great is going to happen.”
Jones finished with a game-high 17 points, while Harris had the team-high eight boards. The Blue Raiders finished the day shooting 35.8 percent from the field, with the bench scoring over half the points with 28 total.
Perrin Buford ended the game with ten points and is averaging 13.7 points per game in the tournament.
The Blue Raiders held the Miners to 20 points under their season scoring average.
MT is 19-15 overall this season and have won four-straight games, its longest streak of the year.
A six seed has never won the C-USA title, although Marshall went to the final as a six seed in 2010 but fell to Memphis.
The Blue Raiders are 5-3 in conference finals, and have fallen in their last three appearances. This is the first appearance in the final for the Blue Raiders since 2008 when they fell to Western Kentucky.
Tickets to the final are $35 dollars and free for students at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala. Middle Tennessee will hold a pep rally at the arena at 1 p.m.