Game #9-301: North Texas Mean Green at Middle Tennessee Blue RaidersDecember 31, 2012 8:00 pm
Murphy Athletics Center
When I decided to go to the Butler-Vanderbilt game, I knew that I wanted to check out at least one more game during the trip. I really wanted to check out Belmont, but they didn't have a game at home during the time I was down there. Tennessee State had a game, but it was at the same time as the Butler game. Same thing for Western Kentucky.
But it was a pleasant surprise that Middle Tennessee State had a game on New Year's Eve. The timing wasn't great, it would be a 7 p.m. Central time start, but the Blue Raiders have had a solid squad that was definitely worth checking out. More importantly, MTSU was playing North Texas, which meant I would get the chance to check out the main man for team Under a Blood Red Line, Tony Mitchell.
Things haven't been going so great for the Mean Green this season. Their struggles under first-year coach Tony Benford have been "highlighted" by a Black Line Upset to Alabama-Huntsville, a school known more for its Division I ice hockey program than its Division II basketball program. At 5-8 coming into the game, including an 0-2 record in the Sun Belt, this game already had "need to win" written all over it.
Mitchell hasn't had quite the season Under a Blood Red Line was expecting. His overall numbers are about the same as last season, where Mitchell averaged 14.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per game. It's been the inconsistency that has been maddening. He's had games like the one against Lehigh where he scored 22 with nine rebounds in a losing effort. But Mitchell has also had games like the one against Louisiana-Lafayette where his production was a paltry three points and four rebounds in 25 minutes.
After my friend John and I spent most of the day watching meaningless college football postseason exhibitions, including one in Nashville itself that started at 11 a.m. local time to appease the Worldwide Leader, we headed out to Murfreesboro for the evening tip.
Murfreesboro is both the geographic center and the center of population for the state of Tennessee. The town was the state capital for eight years during a time when the state capital transitioned from Knoxville to Nashville. It is a booming city, as the population increased from 68,000 in 2000 to 108,000 in 2010.
John asked what I was in the mood to eat. I didn't really have any strong feelings, but was in the mood for something more local that I couldn't get in Ohio. He talked about a hole-in-the-wall barbecue place that was just a couple of minutes from the Middle Tennessee campus. That sound plenty good to me, so we headed there.
The streets were pretty empty when we got into town. It was already dark since Nashville is on the Eastern edge of the Central Time Zone, so sunset is before 5 p.m. in December. Sure, a lot of people take New Year's Eve off, but it seemed eerily quiet.
When we got to the barbecue place, we found out it was closed. Lots of places will close early on New Year's Eve, like at 9 p.m. so people can celebrate or get home without the threat of drunk drivers. I got out of the car to read the hand-written sign on the door. The restaurant hadn't closed early, they just never opened that day. They would also be closed on New Year's Day.
So John and I drove around and he found a bar, Boulevard Bar and Grille, that was open across the street from the MTSU campus. It was open and probably the most happening spot in town. Many Blue Raider fans were decked in blue inside. The bar had a happy hour special of two well drinks for $5, too good to pass up. The rum and cokes were on the strong side too, no need for another round. The food was surprisingly upscale for a bar, but still reasonably priced.
After dinner and drinks, it was time to head to the Murphy Center. The Murphy Center, also known as The Glass House because of the window walls that make up the exterior of the building, has been around since 1973. Entering the building, you notice that you are actually walking on the green indoor track that runs around the upper level of the arena. You also notice that the place could use a good power washing and a new coat of paint.
But the seating area of Monty Hale Arena, the official name for the basketball part of the arena, provides some pretty nice sightlines. The lower level seats around 7,000, and the seats are all angled in an oval toward the center circle. There are also about 4,500 seats in collapsible bleachers around the upper level, but those are rarely required for Middle Tennessee basketball games. Tonight, only 3.872 would spend New Year's Eve watching this showdown in the Sun Belt.
The LED scoreboards were dressed for the occasion, as the graphics guy had a confetti theme worked into the display. The 7 p.m. local tip would be one of the last three basketball games to be played in 2012, as Harvard-St. Mary's and New Mexico State-Louisiana Tech would also tip at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
It was nice to see that Middle Tennessee State had a band present to liven up the festivities, although I am guessing at least a few were alumni or outsiders, as they were changing into their polo shirts in the stands. They sounded really good, the folded up wooden bleachers contained the sound, but their repertoire was a bit limited, as we heard many songs, such as "The A-Team" theme, on more than one occasion.
It would soon become apparent which team wanted to play a game and which team was possibly thinking about festivities later in the evening. North Texas came out on defense in one of the most passive 2-3 zones I have ever seen. The Mean Green were anything but mean, rarely stepping into passing lanes or challenging shooters. Middle Tennessee could cut through the zone with ease, getting whatever shot they wanted.
Apparently the zone was to help keep Mitchell out of foul trouble, as North Texas would switch to man-to-man when Mitchell took a break on the bench. The lack of effort on the defensive end wouldn't have been so bad if the Mean Green weren't so putrid on offense. Coach Benford apparently likes to let his team be creative on offense and not run a ton of set plays.
This is really silly because A) the guards dominate the ball and Mitchell was rarely getting a touch. The only time Mitchell seemed to get the ball was off of a rebound. B) It just wasn't working at all. Eight minutes in, North Texas had three, yes three points on the scoreboard. Somehow, the Mean Green were only down eight, 3-11.
The Blue Raiders and Tweety Knight would capitalize on the flat North Texas play in the next three minutes. Knight would slash through and around the Mean Green defense for three layups. Mix in Raymond Cintron's jumper, and the lead was now 13, 19-6 in favor of Middle Tennessee, forcing Benford into calling a timeout.
North Texas would finally start to find a rhythm by getting to the free-throw line. The next six Mean Green points would come at the line, and North Texas would finally break into double-figures with 7:24 left in the half. The Mean Green zone would continue to offer little resistance, as Shawn Jones was able to make backdoor cuts behind the back three in the zone for easy dunks and layups.
The Gangham Style phenomenon has largely died down, but that didn't stop the Middle Tennessee game operations folks from breaking it out late in the first half. The twist was who was "performing" the dance. Not the mascot, not the cheerleaders or the band, either. It would in fact be Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis. Well, at least Kermit Davis' head pasted on Psy's body in a video that was played on the videoboard.
North Texas would keep in contact with the Blue Raiders via free throws. Somehow, the Mean Green would score more points from the line (13) then they would from the field (11), as UNT shot a miserable 5-of-27 from the field, 18.5 percent. Middle Tennessee would go into the half with a 37-24 lead.
Mitchell and the Mean Green finally showed some spark coming out of the locker room. Mitchell would hit a couple of jumpers with Jacob Holmen chipping in a superhoop to cut the Blue Raider lead down to six quickly. Coach Davis took a timeout to steady the ship. A Bruce Massey jumper and a Neiko Hunter layup would extend the lead back to 10, but Mitchell showed his range with a three to make the score 41-34 with 16:26 to go.
The teams would trade baskets for the next couple of minutes. Cintron hit a three that was answered by a Roger Franklin layup. Massey would hit another jumper for Middle Tennessee, that once again was answered by a Franklin layup. That would be the end of the spurt for North Texas though.
A 10-0 run by the Blue Raiders, highlighted by a pair of jumpers by Hunter and a couple of baskets by Marcos Knight, Tweety's older brother. The score was now 54-38 with 11:09 to go, and most people could comfortably start thinking about any parties they were going to after the game. Coach Davis would be able to get his reserves plenty of court time, as no Middle Tennessee Player would play more than 30 minutes. The Blue Raiders would end up with a 75-57 victory.
One wonders if maybe Mitchell should have taken his flier on the NBA Draft after last season. Although Mitchell would end the evening with a double-double, 13 points and 11 rebounds, it must be frustrating to not featured in the offense as much as he should. On a positive side, he most likely will come back for his junior season now, although that will probably be on the other side of the Red Line, as North Texas will move to Conference USA.
Driving back to John's house in southern Nashville, we stopped at a gas station to fuel up and get a drink. I noticed several teenage girls walk in, filming either other with their camera phones and buying ice cream out of a case near the door. I overheard them talking about going toilet-papering. That is probably the most action that sleepy Murfreesboro would see when the clock struck midnight.
at MIDDLE TENNESSEE 75, NORTH TEXAS 57
NORTH TEXAS 5-9 (0-3) -- J. Williams 5-14 4-6 15; A. Williams 2-8 0-0 4; T. Mitchell 4-12 4-5 13; R. Franklin 5-12 1-1 11; N. Stojiljkovic 0-3 4-4 4; P. Hardwick 1-1 0-1 2; J. Holmen 1-3 0-0 3; C. Overlander 1-2 0-0 3; J. Patton 0-1 2-2 2; K. Coleman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-56 15-19 57.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE 11-3 (3-0) -- S. Jones 4-6 1-2 9; B. Massey 3-9 2-2 8; R. Cintron 4-7 0-0 11; K. Hammonds 3-5 0-0 7; M. Knight 6-10 0-1 12; J. Sulton 2-6 2-2 6; N. Hunter 4-6 0-0 9; T. Knight 4-8 0-4 8; J. Rozier 0-2 3-5 3; J. Gallman 0-1 0-0 0; J. Jones 0-0 0-0 0; Z. Gibson 0-0 0-0 0; T. Walker 1-1 0-0 2; G. Gibson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-61 8-16 75.
Three-point goals: NTEX 4-17 (R. Franklin 0-1; N. Stojiljkovic 0-1; A. Williams 0-1; J. Holmen 1-3; T. Mitchell 1-2; J. Williams 1-7; C. Overlander 1-2), MTSU 5-13 (J. Gallman 0-1; K. Hammonds 1-1; B. Massey 0-1; R. Cintron 3-6; J. Rozier 0-1; N. Hunter 1-2; T. Knight 0-1); Rebounds: NTEX 31 (T. Mitchell 11), MTSU 40 (M. Knight 7); Assists: NTEX 11 (A. Williams 5), MTSU 18 (B. Massey 4); Total Fouls -- NTEX 18, MTSU 18; Fouled Out: NTEX-None; MTSU-None.