published Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Middle is end for UT

Middle Tennessee guard James Gallman (3) shoots a 3-pointer as Tennessee forward Jordan McRae (52) defends during the first half of an NIT college basketball tournament second-round game in Knoxville, Tenn., Monday, March 19, 2012.
Middle Tennessee guard James Gallman (3) shoots a 3-pointer as Tennessee forward Jordan McRae (52) defends during the first half of an NIT college basketball tournament second-round game in Knoxville, Tenn., Monday, March 19, 2012.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee didn't score for the final 7:11 of its men's basketball game Monday night.

The game-ending drought turned out to be a season-ender.

In shades of the upset loss to Austin Peay in December, the Volunteers let an eight-point lead evaporate as Middle Tennessee State scored the game's final 15 points for a 71-64 win in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament at Thompson-Boling Arena.

MTSU will face the Minnesota-Miami winner in the NIT quarterfinals Wednesday night. The Vols' season ends at 19-15.

"Growing up, you watch Tennessee basketball on TV all the time," said Blue Raiders guard Bruce Massey, a Maryland native who played the role of hero with 20 points, 10 rebounds and two key baskets. "You know the history of the school. Even though I'm not from Tennessee, I know that Tennessee had a greater edge in the win column. You can definitely appreciate [this win]."

With the game tied at 45, UT went on a 10-2 run capped by Trae Golden's free throw following a technical foul on Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis. The Vols led 64-56 with 7:11 left on Jordan McRae's scoop shot in transition.

They would not score again.

"We just couldn't get a bucket," said UT forward Jeronne Maymon, who had 17 points and seven rebounds. "We were running our offense. We just couldn't put the ball in the hole. They made plays down the stretch."

Most of those came from Massey, who entered the game with a 5.5-point scoring average. He started the closing surge with four free throws, and after Marcos Knight scored to cut UT's margin to 64-63, Massey scored twice on drives off high ball-screens, which have given the Vols fits this season.

"I really couldn't believe it," said Golden, who had eight assists with 14 points but missed four free throws and was the victim of Massey's late drives. "It caught me completely off guard."

UT missed its last nine shots, though it had just one turnover during the fatal stretch. Maymon, who came off the bench after being questionable with a lingering injury to his right knee, also missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity.

"We were out of our consistent flow offensively," Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I thought we shot a couple of balls quick as opposed to really pounding the ball inside."

The Vols scored 34 points in the paint, and Middle Tennessee struggled to handle Maymon and Jarnell Stokes (14 points). The Blue Raiders' frontcourt trio of LaRon Dendy, J.T. Sulton and Shawn Jones each had four fouls. Middle Tennessee, however, outrebounded UT 46-30 and overcame 17 turnovers.

"We ran plays to get the ball inside," Martin said, "but like I said, they were setting up in a double team every time. It's just a matter of big guys continuing to post strong and get the ball out of there if they double. Probably about four or five shots we shot too quick when we could have gone inside with the ball."

Dendy, the Sun Belt Conference's player of the year and an Iowa State transfer, played 25 foul-plagued minutes and had 10 points and nine rebounds. The Blue Raiders shot 46 percent to earn their second win against UT.

"Getting a victory over Tennessee, that's big-time," Dendy said. "We're just going to take this, cherish this and keep going."

The Blue Raiders had separate spurts of 7-0, 6-0 and 8-0 and led by 12 with 8:36 to go in the first half. UT forced seven MTSU turnovers after the seven-minute mark to spark a 14-2 run that tied the game. Middle led 36-34 at halftime.

In a physical game that included 44 fouls and 58 free throws, both teams appeared to be out of gas as time ran down. The Blue Raiders were able to dig deep for the final burst of energy to put them over the top.

"I was surprised how gassed they were," Massey said. "You could see it on Golden's face."

The Vols, meanwhile, couldn't figure out a way to break out of their funk on offense.

"We were just trying to keep each other up," Maymon said. "We didn't need to be patient; we just needed to execute our offense. We were getting the shots that we wanted -- we just couldn't put it in."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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