C-USA road test: UTSA takes on Middle Tennessee

UTSA forward Kendell Ramlal rises up to dunk off a pass from Byron Frohnen in last Saturday’s 65-61 victory over UTEP in San Antonio.

The UTSA Roadrunners have emerged with a few of their better performances this season on big stages.

They stayed with the Oklahoma Sooners well into the second half in Norman.

They battled the Nebraska Cornhuskers with explosive offense into the last few minutes.

The Roadrunners will need another strong effort Thursday night in a Conference USA test against the defending champion Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.

Middle Tennessee (14-5, 6-1) and UTSA (10-10, 3-4) are set to play at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Following back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, the Kermit Davis-coached Blue Raiders are averaging 6,118 fans, second in the C-USA only to UTEP.

They’re stacked with talent again, as evidenced by victories against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in non-conference, not to mention a 66-62 victory last Saturday at Western Kentucky in conference play.

The Roadrunners will have their hands full with the C-USA co-leaders, who feature the likes of Nick King, Giddy Potts and Brandon Walters.

UTSA’s Keaton Wallace shakes a defender to hit a first-half three against UTEP.

Can anyone stop Middle Tennessee in the C-USA?

Building on a burgeoning winning tradition in men’s college basketball, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders appear poised to make another run at the Conference USA title.

Coach Kermit Davis’ Blue Raiders, based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, opened eyes two years ago by knocking off Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans in the round of 64 of the NCAA tournament.

Last year, they did it again, taking down Minnesota in the NCAA’s R64.

This season, the Blue Raiders continue to step up their game.

They swept two games against Southeastern Conference foes in the last week, improving to 5-0 against the SEC since 2015.

With a 77-58 win over Ole Miss Saturday at the Murphy Center, the Blue Raiders (7-1) continued to burnish their reputation as the top program in the C-USA.

It was the second SEC victory of the season for Middle Tennessee, with the first coming Wednesday at Vanderbilt.

“The score really wasn’t indicative of what the game was, it just kind of broke open in the last three or four minutes,” Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis told reporters later. “What a great fan turnout for our team, over 8,000 fans.

“It was a big game for us, for our town and our campus. When our team has that kind of home court, it means a lot to those guys in that locker room.”

Newcomer Nick King, who has played at both Memphis and Alabama in his college career, has been well worth the price of admission so far.

The 6-foot-7 forward from Memphis East High School is averaging 24.3 points and 6.6 rebounds. King is shooting 55.5 percent from the field.

“Coach always preaches to us about being a national team, and that we have to have the opportunity to show it and take advantage,” he said. “We have the opportunity now, and we’re taking advantage.

“We’re practicing absolutely as hard as we can each and every practice. Not a lot of teams do that during the season … but we have to have that edge every single day.”