Middle Tennessee State erupted for its highest scoring performance of the season led by five players finishing in double-figures in a 99-90 win over Marshall in the Conference USA semifinals at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
MTSU shot a jaw-dropping 76.9 percent (20-26) from the field in the second half and nearly 60 percent for the contest to outpace the No. 3 scoring offense in the nation. Jaqawn Raymond led the way for the Raiders with 20 points, Reggie Upshaw had 17 points and nine rebounds, Perrin Buford added 18, Giddy Potts netted 13 and Darnell Harris added 12.
Austin Loop and Stevie Browning led Marshall with 20 points each while Justin Edmonds and Ryan Taylor each added 13.
MTSU entered the contest as the second worst free throw shooting team in the nation (349-351), but shot 75.6 percent (31-41) to Marshall's 47.4 percent.
Scoring came early and often for both teams with an Austin Loop 3-pointer to open the game followed by back-to-back treys by MTSU's Raymond and Buford. A James Kelly trifecta capped the scoring frenzy for a 6-6 stalemate after 90 seconds of play.
Browning capped off a 6-0 Marshall run as the Herd sprinted out to an 18-13 lead only to see early foul troubles haunt the Herd's big men. Terrance Thompson, Taylor and Kelly all picked up two fouls before the eight-minute mark left in the half and MTSU seized the opportunity.
With Kelly and Taylor absent from the court, MTSU pulled to within one, 22-21, on an Upshaw And-1 that sent Kelly to the bench. The Raiders exploded on a 13-0 run while holding the Herd scoreless for nearly four minutes while using a 1-3-1-trap defense to perfection.
Needing an answer, Dan D'Antoni decided to send Taylor and Kelly back to the floor only to have the decision backfire. Potts headed to the rim out of control, but was bailed out with Taylor's third foul of the half followed by a technical foul on D'Antoni, providing MTSU with a 37-27 lead. Aldonis Foote put the Raiders up 12 just before the break but a pair of Loop free throws cut the lead to 39-29 at the half.
Both teams shot 40.7 percent (11-27) from the field in the half, but the stat that tilted the playing field, free throws. MTSU hit 86.7 percent (13-15) of its attempts while Marshall connected on only 33.3 percent (4-12).
Raymond and Upshaw led the Raiders with eight at the break. Loop added eight for the Herd.
MTSU opened the second half even hotter than the first, grabbing an 18-point lead, 55-37, on a Harris triple to answer Browning's on the prior possession. Browning pulled the Herd to within 10, 59-49, with 12:36 to go, but the Raiders transition offense was too much for the men in green to slow. MTSU consistently broke Marshall's backcourt pressure, leading to 2-on-1s on the offensive end. Buford pushed the advantage back to 15 just past the midway point of the half, as the Herd simply couldn't find a defensive stop.
Raymond provided the Raiders their largest lead of the game, 85-67, on a pair of free throws with 4:04 left in the affair. With every Marshall surge, MTSU responded with one of its own, sending the Herd packing after coming up short in a final shot across the bow in the game's final minutes.
Marshall finished the final 20 minutes of the event with a 61-point production after being held to only 29 in the first half. However, MTSU combatted with a 60-point second half performance of its own.
MTSU moves on to the CUSA Championship game for the second time in as many seasons, with Old Dominion waiting in the wings, with the winner earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament which begins next week.