MURFREESBORO — As part of its ongoing Centennial Celebration festivities, Middle Tennessee State honored a significant group of ‘basketball legends’ during halftime of Saturday’s nationally televised game at Hale Arena.
In the 20 minutes of basketball that preceded and the 20 that followed the recognition of all-time leading scorer Desmond ‘Boogie’ Yates among others, LaRon Dendy continued to play role of legend-in-the-making.
The 6-foot-9 senior forward, playing for his third school in five years, has a limited amount of time to leave a lasting mark with the Blue Raiders, but his 23-point performance in the 68-60 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock was the latest step in that direction. He scored his team’s first 12 points, missed only two of the 11 field goals he attempted and his authoritative block with 14 seconds remaining put an exclamation point on things.
“Man, he’s a great player,” Arkansas-Little Rock coach Steve Shields said. “He’s a championship player. He’s a first-team all-league guy and he’s a potential player of the year-type guy.”
Dendy’s point total, which led all scorers for either team, was coincidental given that the victory was MTSU’s 23rd of the season. That matched the most in program history with three regular season games plus the conference tournament — and likely more — still on the schedule.
In the battle of division leaders televised by ESPN2, the Blue Raiders also clinched the Sun Belt Conference East title and put themselves in position to win the regular season conference title outright with their next triumph.
“Twenty-three wins is quite an accomplishment, even before Valentine’s Day so there’s basketball left, obviously,” coach Kermit Davis, who earlier this season became the program’s all-time winningest coach, said. “This team has done a lot of firsts this year. I’m proud of them for that.”
Actually this season is Dendy’s first — and last — playing for MTSU. He sat out 2010-11 after he transferred from Iowa State, where he played one season. He used his first two years of eligibility at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College.
One of seven newcomers, he leads the Blue Raiders in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots for the season.
He had team-highs in all three (six rebounds and two blocked shots in addition to his 23 points) against UALR and made his first five field goal attempts, capped by his eighth 3-pointer of the season. He was the only MTSU player who scored in the first seven and a half minutes.
“With my team, they kept giving me the ball,” Dendy said. “It’s a team game, but they recognized who was scoring so they kept giving me the ball at the time. They kept coming to me, and I appreciate that.”
His dunk with 7:30 to go gave the Blue Raiders their biggest lead of the opening 20 minutes (27-20) and a free throw with 4:07 to play in the second half made it 61-51, which matched their largest advantage of the contest.
Dendy now has scored in double figures seven straight game and has topped 20 in three of the last five. He set a career-high with 26 points two days earlier against Western Kentucky and his 23 in this one was his second-highest total of the season.
“He was good,” Davis said. “You could just tell that he was ready to go. He’s been like that the last three or four weeks. Really, he’s been consistent all year but he’s got a little different look in his eye over the last three or four weeks. He’s playing well in games that matter most, which is great for us.
“He just lends himself to try and win the game. To me, you don’t find that on a ton of transfers like that and he’s got that quality. He’s made us a different team because of it.”
Whether or not he qualifies as a legend likely can’t be determined without the passage of some amount of time.
Yet it’s clear what Blue Raiders supporters think of him right now. As time wound down the student section serenaded him with a chant of "MVP! MVP!"
“We have done a lot of hard work and I feel like the fans love me,” Dendy said. “We just have to keep on doing what we’re doing. Hopefully I can get MVP, but that’s the last thing I’m worried about.”