MURFREESBORO — Bruce Massey considers this a dress rehearsal.
The Middle Tennessee State senior guard soaked in the moment as he climbed the ladder and snipped off a piece of nylon at the Murphy Center. With an 85-50 win over South Alabama on Thursday night the Blue Raiders clinched their second straight Sun Belt Conference championship.
Massey and the Blue Raiders hope this was just a warm-up for the league tournament in two weeks in Hot Springs, Ark.
“It feels good but we know cutting down the nets was a little tease,” Massey said. “We were trying to get a feeling to keep winning. It will feel better if you win the Hot Springs then you know you’re going to the NCAA Tournament. It was just a little tease but it felt good to cut down the nets in front of our home fans.”
The Blue Raiders (24-4, 16-1) locked up their third regular-season title in four years — they were co-champs in 2010 — by blasting the second-best team in the league. MTSU snagged a 13-0 lead and never looked back as coach Kermit Davis emptied his bench with three minutes remaining.
Massey scored 12 points to lead five Blue Raiders in double figures. Shawn Jones also added 10 points, seven rebounds and showed off impressive elevation in blocking a career-high six shots.
MTSU swept the season series against the Jaguars (15-10, 12-5), who shot just 28.6 percent from the field. A 60-56 victory at South Alabama on Jan. 5 was the first win in MTSU’s current 13-game winning streak, which is tied for the fifth longest in Division I.
“I think it speaks it about the capabilities of our team,” Davis said. “That South Alabama team has won at Florida State. That is a good team. It was just one of those nights that we got going. We were very good [Thursday].”
Beforehand, Davis was honored for becoming the Sun Belt’s all-time wins leader when the Blue Raiders edged Arkansas-Little Rock last week. In 11 years, Davis has accumulated 114 league wins.
He was the first one to cut down the nets afterwards as a small splattering of the 5,712 in attendance stayed around to celebrate.
“We’re the first team in college basketball to clinch outright,” Davis said. “That is a good feeling and it is hard to do with three [regular-season] games to go. We won one at Florida Atlantic and we didn’t cut the nets down and we won one last year and we didn’t cut the nets down. I wanted our fans and players to experience it. I think it is good. Hopefully we’ll have mental images for more good things to come.”