Middle Tennessee defense dominates UTSA, 75-51

Championship teams share a few common characteristics.

They play with consistent aggression and never allow an opponent to think they can win.

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders used that formula to dominate the UTSA Roadrunners 75-51 Thursday night in Conference USA men’s basketball.

In the game played at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the Blue Raiders buried the Roadrunners with a 40-24 second half.

“They just took it right to us,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told the team’s radio broadcast. “They wore on us and wore on us and dominated the glass, and … we just couldn’t make…we just didn’t compete offensively.

“We just don’t compete enough. We just settle for shots. When it’s hard, we don’t know how to respond, and it was hard.”

After representing the C-USA at the NCAA tournament two years in a row, the Blue Raiders showed why they are projected to make it three straight.

Forwards Nick King and Brandon Walters had their way, with King scoring a game-high 22 points and Walters grabbing 14 rebounds.

Middle Tennessee (15-5, 7-1) also enjoyed a strong showing from guard Antwain Johnson, who scored 15.

Jhivvan Jackson scored 17, but nobody else hit double figures as UTSA (10-11, 3-5) recorded its fewest points in a game this season.

Henson said he liked how his players protected the ball in the first half, when they led briefly 14-11 and went into the dressing room down only 35-27.

“Other than that, offensively, you got to drive it down in there and expect to finish,” Henson said. “We’re taking jump shots. I think guys shooting ’em are expecting ’em to go in. It’s just easier to let it fly.

“We got to find a better balance between having some offensive freedom and taking bad shots. We got to drive it. We don’t get to the free throw line. We got to get on the attack. We got to … get in the paint and finish around the rim.”

UTSA hit 4 of its first 8 from 3-point range and then went cold, hitting only 3 of 16 the rest of the way.

The Blue Raiders held the Roadrunners to 21 of 61 from the field overall for 34 percent.

“I thought our guys started the game with a terrific mindset,” Henson said. “I thought we were fighting defensively. We did some really good things from the scouting report.

“We took away some of their strengths. We did a good job on (guard Giddy) Potts all night. We paid extra attention to him. But (with) their style, their toughness, just wore on us, just kept chipping away at us.

“Kind of shows us how far we’ve got to go to become a good ball club.”

UTSA will move on to play at Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday night. UAB broke a two-game losing streak by defeating UTEP 85-78 Thursday.

Lewis Sullivan scored 19 as the Blazers (14-7, 5-3) shot 55.2 percent from the field.

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