Down goes MTSU. The two-time defending Conference USA champions fell to ninth seeded Southern Miss in overtime by a final of 71-68. The two teams had played twice this season, but MTSU came away with double-digit wins in both contests.
Giddy Potts started the game shooting three-for-three from three-point land but went cold in the second half. Southern Miss’s Cortez Edwards was a consistent threat for the Golden Eagles, scoring 11 points in the first half and nine in the second half. The Golden Eagle’s Kevin Holland also played a big role, scoring all eight of his points in the second half and overtime including a big three with 56 seconds left in regulation. Nick King led all scorers for MTSU with 17 points.
The critical point came late in regulation when MTSU trailed Southern Miss by three with less than a minute remaining. Potts used his screen and nailed a crucial triple with barely any time to set his feet. Southern Miss missed the buzzer beater and the game went to overtime. Southern Miss made their first two shots in the extra period hitting big threes to lead by five. MTSU did claw back for a final shot at the buzzer, but the shot bounced off the front of the rim, sending the Golden Eagle players into a frenzy.
Southern Miss will now face Marshall in the conference semifinals after the Thundering Herd defeated UTSA. Marshall finished the Roadrunners in a 95-81 shootout tonight. The Thundering Herd had four players finish in double figures led by C.J. Burks and Ajdin Penava who finished with 29 and 23 points, respectively. The Golden Eagles and the Thundering Herd have faced off once this season, with Marshall winning by a final of 85-66.
What does this mean for MTSU?
The Blue Raiders now sit at a 24-7 overall record. MTSU rode an 11-game winning streak going into the final regular season game against Marshall on Saturday. The then-24th ranked Blue Raiders — the first time the program had ever been ranked — fell to the Thundering Herd, their second loss to Marshall this season.
MTSU picked a bad time to get two unexpected losses, given the situation with high majo bubble resumes. MTSU currently has an RPI of 28, a strength of schedule ranking of 74, and a strength of record ranking of 39. The Blue Raiders are 0-3 against the BPI top 50 this season. In the new system, MTSU currently has two “quadrant one” wins at Murray State and at Western Kentucky. Middle Tennessee did not have an RPI loss above 100 until tonight (Southern Miss has an RPI off 221).
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently still has the Blue Raiders in the Big Dance, taking a bubble spot from a bigger team. Before the loss, Lunardi had MTSU as a No. 12 seed. For what it’s worth, the Bracket Matrix — which was updated after the Blue Raiders’ loss — has them out of the field, and beyond the Next Four Out.
Will the Blue Raiders get the justice of which many mid majors dream? Or will a high major with double digit losses burst their bubble? All we know is that it will be a nerve-racking wait until Selection Sunday in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.