Middle Tennessee was the first 12 seed to be favored over a 5 seed since 1999, and its performance in Thursday’s 81-72 win over Minnesota in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament showed that Vegas knew what it was doing.
Things got off to a bit of a slow start for the Blue Raiders as Kermit Davis was forced to burn his first timeout just 3:13 into the game with his team trailing 7-0. His team responded well and came back to take a 37-31 lead into halftime.
The Blue Raiders went on a 15-4 run early in the second half and led by as many as 17 points with just over 12 minutes remaining. The lead appeared to be in doubt after Giddy Potts picked up his third and fourth fouls just 14 seconds apart and had to go to the bench with 8:40 remaining.
The Blue Raiders led 62-51 at the time of Potts’ fourth foul. Minnesota then cut the lead all the way down to 62-58 with Potts out of the game, before Middle Tennessee’s Reggie Upshaw scored nine straight points to weather the storm and keep the Gophers at arm’s length. The Blue Raiders responded with a 15-7 run to ice the game and send Minnesota packing.
Upshaw, who was also the hero of Middle Tennessee’s stunning 90-81 first-round upset over Michigan State, finished with 19 points and 9 rebounds.
“Reggie Upshaw has impacted winning more than any player in the history of our school,” Davis said after the game.
Potts, Brandon Walters, and JaCorey Williams also posted double-digit scoring totals in Thursday’s win. The Blue Raiders will take on Butler in the second round on Saturday with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line.