Less than a week into the men’s basketball season, only one area team remains undefeated — perhaps the one fewest expected.
Middle Tennessee State, with seven newcomers and two of its first three games on the West Coast, are 3-0 for the first time in 10 years after dominating traditional power UCLA in an 86-66 road victory late Tuesday night.
The Blue Raiders, competing in the inland portion of the EA Sports Maui Invitational, shot a Sun Belt Conference record 90.9 percent (11-of-12) from 3-point range. That contributed heavily to a school record 71.4 percent shooting from the field.
“It was a perfect storm [Tuesday],” MTSU coach Kermit Davis said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team that played that well offensively, that efficiently. We just made shot after shot. UCLA started to make some runs, and we just kept making shots. It was a complete game for us.
"When you come on the road and beat a storied program like UCLA, it’s great for our staff and great for our players.”
It was not just the offense, though. For the third straight game, the Blue Raiders held their opponent to less than 40 percent shooting.
In a 58-51 victory against Loyola Marymount on Sunday, also in Los Angeles, the Blue Raiders held the Lions to 33.3 percent shooting. Loyola Marymount had also just beaten UCLA (0-2), which was ranked 15th prior to the season.
MTSU played three games in a span of five days, beginning last Friday with an 80-71 over Austin Peay, which is picked to win the Ohio Valley Conference, and did so without their top returning scorer, Jason Jones (back).
The Blue Raiders are coming off a 16-16 season and a second-place finish in the Sun Belt East (they were predicted to finish in the same position this year).
LaRon Dendy has filled Jones' offensive role nicely. The 6-foot-2 guard, who transferred from Iowa State, is averaging a team-high 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. Against UCLA, he scored 16 on 6-of-11 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds to go along with four assists.
He was one of five Blue Raiders to score in double-digit figures. Junior college transfer Marcos Knight, the team’s second leading scorer, added 15 points and Bruce Massey, another junior college product, had 14 points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from behind the arc.
“You can tell we all like each other on the court,” Massey said. “Nobody gets jealous of anybody. If somebody’s hot, we all keep going to him until he cools off. We really like playing with each other, love one another and there’s no jealousy out there on the court.”
MTSU returns to action this weekend in Murfreesboro, hosting regional rounds of the Maui Invitational. Belmont plays Towson at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The Blue Raiders follow with a 5:15 tipoff against UNC-Greensboro. The consolation game is at 1 p.m. on Sunday, with the championship at 3:30 p.m.