Murfreesboro, TN ( 3/21 ) ………The Men’s Blue Raiders basketball team fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers 78-72 in the third round of the National Invitation Tournament ( NIT ) at Murphy Center on Wednesday night. A near capacity crowd of 10,521 fans witnessed the best post season effort for Middle Tennessee since the 1989 season. The Golden Gophers now advance to the semi finals in Madison Square Garden in New York City to take on the Washington Huskies on March 27th.
With :07 left in the game and down 74-72, LeRon Dendy picked up a technical foul for reaching over the out of bounds line attempting to block the inbound pass by Minnesota. The Gophers made good on the two free throw shots and added two more free throws on the resulting possession foul. Andre Hollins made four straight free throws to give Tubby Smith’s team a six point win.
“I had (the ball) in front of me, and I pulled it back. He just reached over and slapped the ball out of my hands,” said Minnesota’s Rodney Williams, the in-bounds passer. “Luckily the ref saw it because it took me a minute to realize what happened. But he slapped it out of my hands and it hit the court.”
When asked by head coach Kermit Davis if he touched the ball, Dendy’s one word answer was “No”. Three plays during the game were video reviewed by the officials, but the controversial play by Dendy was not.
Minnesota was led by Hollins and Williams who had 24 points each and lead all scorers. Hollins, a freshman, played his high school ball at White Station in Memphis. Elliott Eliason had 12 points and Austin Hollins had 10 points.
Marcos Knight had 19 points for the Blue Raiders which matches his career high. Cintron had 15 points followed by Dendy with 11 points.
Dendy got off to a very slow start in the game. With 13:19 left in the first half, Dendy had only 2 points and went the whole first half with only one bucket and one rebound. The Sun Belt Player of the Year had averaged 14.7 points in 33 games. Dendy, playing in his final game, picked up the pace in the second half, including a three point play which cut the Gopher lead to 51-50. Dendy had 5 rebounds. Knight lead the Blue Raiders with 9 total.
JT Sulton also had a sub par night. Coming into the game, the Junior forward from Yazoo City, MS had averaged 8.2 points. He ended the night with 4 points and 2 rebounds in 25 minutes of playing time.
Middle saw 5 players come off the bench to produce 14 points. Seeing playing time were James Gallman, Shawn Jones, Jimmy Oden, Torin Walker and Kerry Hammonds. Jones, Walker and Hammonds had 4 points each. Minnesota’s bench scored only 1 point.
The Blue Raiders took a 32-28 lead into the halftime locker room. The largest lead of the game was 9 points by Minnesota with 2:21 left in the game. Middle’s largest lead was 4 points with :53 left in the first half.
Minnesota’s record was 21-14 coming into the game, playing in the Big Ten Conference. They had six straight losses in February and lost to #2 seed Michigan in the Conference Tournament.
“It’s a great reward,” said Minnesota coach Smith. “Our goal was to get to postseason play, get to the NCAA (tournament). They can feel good about themselves and not have to listen to naysayers say they’re not any good or can’t play or coach can’t coach. That’s what it does for them.”