Saturday, March 12, 2016

Middle Tennessee State: 2015-16 Conference USA Men's Basketball Champions



BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Reggie Upshaw made two free throws with 2.9 seconds left to lift Middle Tennessee to a 55-53 victory over Old Dominion on Saturday in the Conference USA tournament championship game.

The Blue Raiders (24-9) earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013 in a defensive struggle that was markedly different from their 99-90 semifinal shootout with Marshall.

Aaron Bacote dribbled once and launched a 3-pointer from before midcourt for Old Dominion (22-13).

That set off a celebration that included Upshaw standing on the scorer's table in front of Middle Tennessee fans at Legacy Arena. He was the tournament MVP.

Giddy Potts led Middle Tennessee with 14 points and made 4 of 5 3-pointers before fouling out. Darnell Harris scored 10 points and Upshaw had nine, including the two biggest.

Trey Freeman led Old Dominion with 17 points, but was only 7-of-23 shooting. Aaron Bacote scored 15 points and the rest of the team totaled 21.

Brandan Stith's tip-in attempt off Bacote's miss didn't fall, and he didn't appear to get it off on time anyway. He sprawled face-first on the floor when it didn't.

Freeman, the league's leading scorer, couldn't come close to his semifinal performance. He set a tournament record with 42 points, including 34 in the second half against Western Kentucky.

The teams traded tying baskets inside over the final 1:11 then Zoran Talley, whose jumper had given the Monarchs a lead, missed this time.

Middle Tennessee ran off most of the clock before Upshaw tried to spin and was fouled by Denzell Taylor as he shot.

GIDDY'S DAY

Potts, the nation's No. 2 3-point shooter, fouled out on a charge with 3:17 left and the game tied at 49. The rest of the team was 2 of 11 from 3-point range.

TREY'S TOUGH TIME

Freeman launched an array of long jumpers and made a deep 3-pointer but got few open looks. He refused to blame the fatigue of four games in four days. "I just had a bad game," he said.

TIP INS

Middle Tennessee: Has won six straight games. Now 9-1 in games decided by three points or less.

Old Dominion: Was trying to become the fifth C-USA team to win four tournament games in four days and first since Houston in 2012. Made 1 of 9 3-ointers.

UP NEXT

Middle Tennessee is heading to its eighth NCAA Tournament.

Old Dominion awaits its postseason fate, possibly in the NIT.
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