Blue Raiders, Blazers collide in C-USA title match

Mar 14, 2015 - 3:10 PM Birmingham, AL ( - The 2014-15 Conference USA champion will be crowned on Saturday afternoon as the sixth-seeded Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders clash with the fourth-seeded UAB Blazers in the tournament final at Legacy Arena.

The winner also earns the Conference USA's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Middle Tennessee pulled off an upset of second-seeded Texas-El Paso on Friday, winning in the home stretch of the quarterfinal matchup by a 53-50 margin. The Blue Raiders enter the title bout on a three-game win streak.

UAB was able to pull off the huge upset Friday against the top-seeded Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the semifinal round, winning in overtime by a 72-62 score.

Middle Tennessee and UAB met twice during the regular season, and neither outcome was a favorable one for the Blue Raiders. The Blazers took a 54-49 victory in Murfreesboro back in early January, and then took down the Blue Raiders in a high-scoring 100-95 affair in Birmingham late in February.

UTEP took a 25-20 lead into halftime on Friday against Middle Tennessee, but the Blue Raiders battled back in the second half behind 43.5 percent shooting and a strong defensive effort that kept the Miners below 40 percent from the floor. D.J. Jones came off the bench to lead the way for Middle Tennessee, netting 17 points. Reggie Upshaw chipped in with 10 points and seven rebounds in the win, while Perrin Buford added 10 points of his own.

Middle Tennessee is still relatively new to the Conference USA scene, and this is the first trip to the tournament final for the Blue Raiders in their brief history. Middle Tennessee was swept in two games against the Blazers during the regular season, losing to the Blazers by a combined 10 points in the two meetings.

UAB held a 10-point lead over Louisiana Tech at halftime, and then was up by seven points in the waning minutes of the contest. But the Bulldogs came back to tie it up and send the semifinal match to overtime, where UAB held Louisiana Tech to a mere 1-of-11 shooting. The Blazers connected on all three of their field goals in the extra period, and buried 8-of-12 from the free- throw line to gain a significant advantage over the Bulldogs.

The Blazers, who earned the fourth seed after a solid season in conference play, ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak, but have now won back-to-back games to reach the conference finals. UAB also took down high- octane Western Kentucky on Thursday in a tight 53-52 contest to advance into Friday's semifinal match.

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