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Blue Raiders Struggle Offensively In 61-56 Setback To WKU

February 3, 2005 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - In what has become a developing theme of late, Middle Tennessee fell behind big early and then came storming back late in the second half only to come up on the short end of a 61-56 decision in front of a season-high 6,103 at Murphy Center.

Middle Tennessee third-year Head Coach Kermit Davis had a difficult time finding many positives following the team's third straight home loss and fifth setback in its last six games. He did praise the atmosphere and the crowd.

"The only positive for Middle Tennessee State tonight was the crowd and the atmosphere inside the Murphy Center," Davis said. "The student turnout was great and the community support was great, and I thank those people. That was the only positive for Middle Tennessee State. The heck with moral victories and the heck with getting down 16 and coming back late. That's not what it's all about."

Michael Cuffee's 16 points and eight rebounds led middle Tennessee, while Steve Thomas finished with 12 points and seven boards. Marcus Morrison finished with 10 points and four rebounds.

The Blue Raiders (13-9, 3-5) trailed by 16, 49-33, with 10:05 remaining; marking the fifth time in six games they have trailed by at least 16 in a game. As has been the case in the six previous games, Middle Tennessee stormed back and made it a one-possession game late but couldn't get over the hump.

Western Kentucky (14-5, 5-3) seemed to have the game in hand with a 53-42 lead with 4:24 remaining, but the Blue Raiders went on a 11-2 run over the next three minutes and cut the deficit to 55-53 on Bryan Smithson's clutch jumper with 1:00 remaining. However, the Hilltoppers made six straight free throws down the stretch and the only other shot the Blue Raiders made in the final minute was Smithson's long trey with seven seconds remaining to cut the Western Kentucky lead to 59-56.

POSTGAME NOTES
SHOOTING DOOMS RAIDERS: Once again poor shooting played a huge factor in a loss by the Blue Raiders as they connected on just 39.6 percent of their shots against Western Kentucky Thursday night. Over the past six games, Middle Tennessee is shooting a dismal 37.9 percent (125-330) from the field and stand 1-5 in those contests. In fact, the Blue Raiders have shot better than 45 percent from the field just twice in the last 10 games.

GOOD CROWD: The announced crowd of 6,103 for tonight's MT-WKU game is the largest of the season for Middle Tennessee and its top attended game at the Murphy Center since a record 11,807 saw the same two teams play a year ago. For the year, Middle Tennessee is averaging 3,722.

DEFENSE WAS SOLID: Not a lot went right for the Blue Raiders on Thursday night, but defense is one thing that could be put on the positive side of the ledger. For the third straight game, MT held an opponent to 65 points or less as the Hilltoppers scored just 61 points, which were 16 below their season average. In the second half, Middle Tennessee was its most effective by allowing WKU to attempt just 16 shots. On the year, the Blue Raiders lead the league in points allowed at 63.0.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Members of the working media voted Michael Cuffee the Alexander Automotive Family Player of the Game. Cuffee finished with 16 points, eight boards, and one steal in 40 minutes.

INSIDE THE PAINT: The Blue Raiders owned the offensive glass by outrebounding the Hilltoppers, 13-3 ... Marcus Morrison matched his personal-best with two blocked shots against WKU, while also matching his career-high in steals with three ... Keith Christmas scored two points tonight and those are his first points since getting one against Tennessee-Wesleyan on Dec. 2 ... Middle Tennessee held WKU 16 points below their season average of 77 points per contest ... Marcus Morrison scored in double figures for the 12th time this season and the first in five games with 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting ... After scoring in double figures every game of his Blue Raider career, Mike Dean has now scored in single digits three times over the past five games he has played ... Steve Thomas scored in double figures for the 11th time this season and the sixth time in a row with 12 points against WKU ... Senior Michael Cuffee had his best offensive showing (16 points) since collecting a career-high 24 points in a win at Arkansas State on Jan. 13.

POSTGAME QUOTES

MT Head Coach Kermit Davis
"I just want to thank the community and the student body. It was a great atmosphere in the Murphy Center. They hung in there with us. I thought it was really a nice crowd. I would like to commend Western Kentucky. I thought they came in and were aggressive. They were more physical and played with more confidence. I thought they were very well prepared. It is just inexcusable for us time in and time out to play 25 minutes of quality basketball."

"It is an understatement, but we are struggling offensively. We are trying to play fast. We are trying to play in transition. It boils down to their guys made plays. They spread the floor with three guards. Then, they would just dribble by us and make a play. We had open looks to go at the goal. Elgrace Wilborn blocked the first shot, and we thought it was Bill Russell. It was just amazing. We had guys looking, ducking and dodging. We were just intimidated. It was unbelievable. You have to make plays out of your offense this time of year. In league play, people scout each other too much. I guarantee you we did maybe one thing Western Kentucky didn't prepare for. Maybe they did one thing we didn't prepare for. You have to make plays and be tough enough to do it. Right now, our guys aren't playing with a lot of confidence offensively."

MT Forward Michael Cuffee
"Every loss we have had this year has stung. This was a real bad loss because we have now lost three straight at home. We were trying to get back in the hunt. We have put ourselves in a deep hole now. We just have to keep playing hard and competing every night. If we do that, we can get ourselves back in to it."

"The fans show us a lot of love and a lot of support. Tonight, I feel like we really let them down. They come every game, and show us love every game. We just have to come out with more intensity in the first half and play the way we can play to show our crowd as much love as they give us."

MT Guard Fats Cuyler
"We are not coming out of the gates ready to play right away. In the second half down 16, we came out ready to play because we didn't want to get embarrassed."

MT Center Steve Thomas
"There is no excuse. We have to make plays."

WKU Head Coach Darrin Horn "This is a big road win for our team, simply because of the respect we have for Middle Tennessee and the team that they have and the way they are coached. For us to come in here and come away with a win is really positive for our players. Hopefully, we will build on this and not slip up after getting a quality win on the road."

"We didn't handle [the lead] well down the stretch. Again, that is part of having a young team and guys that haven't been in that situation enough. It is a positive to build on. We may not have done that a few weeks ago. We have to take it, be thankful for the win, and kind of run with it."

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