Tiny Dancers: Middle Tennessee survives crazy C-USA ending

Middle Tennessee outlasted an Old Dominion team playing its fourth game in four days but ultimately won because of two improbable and wildly entertaining scenarios. The Blue Raiders are going back to the tournament for the first time since 2013 and won the league tournament for the first time as a Conference USA member, but you won’t believe how close ODU came to stealing this win from under their noses.

Reggie Upshaw had played a tremendous tournament and ended up going to the free throw line with 2.9 seconds remaining. The only issue is that Upshaw is a 50 percent free throw shooter. Coach Kermit Davis said after the game it was rewarding to see Upshaw rise to the occasion and in the tightest moment of the afternoon and make both free throws, giving the fans that made the trip south to Birmingham plenty to make noise about.

But the next play was even more stunning, both for what it was and what it could have been. Jeff Jones drew up a wickedly sharp final play that featured a long alley-oop disguised as a desparation half-court shot. Middle Tennessee kept its eyes on the “shooter,” Aaron Bacote, and did not see Brandan Stith sneak behind the defense to receive the pass.

Stith’s tip-in barely missed and a review showed that it probably would not have counted, but man what an incredible ending to an exciting Conference USA Tournament.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 24-9 overall, 13-5 in Conference USA
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2013 (lost to Saint Mary’s in the First Four as an 11-seed)
  • Jerry Palm predicts: 14 seed
  • RPI: 89
  • KenPom Ranking: 125
  • Sagarin Ranking: 121
  • Best wins: Old Dominion, UNC Asheville
  • Worst Losses: Western Kentucky, Georgia State
  • Notable stat: 349. Middle Tennessee is one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country, ranking No. 349 at 60.5 percent.

Closing quip: Middle Tennessee is going to be an interesting team to watch in the tournament. The Blue Raiders lost by single digits in its only games against top-100 KenPom teams but got swept by UAB and doesn’t really have one quality win. It’s seed will likely put it against one of the major conference contenders and give Kermit Davis a great chance to put this competitive team on display for the country.

ODU almost pulled off this incredible buzzer-beater. (Fox Sports 1)

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