Third-seeded Middle Tennessee State smothered No. 6 Old Dominion with suffocating defense and rolled to a 62-48 victory in the Conference USA quarterfinals on Thursday at the Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas.
The Blue Raiders (24-8) will face No. 4 Tulsa in Friday’s first semifinal. Tulsa advanced with a 70-49 victory over No. 7 Tulane in the quarterfinals.
Old Dominion completed its first season under coach Jeff Jones with a 16-17 record.
Forward Neiko Hunter scored 16 points to lead three Blue Raiders in double figures. But the story of the game was Middle Tennessee State’s defense, which limited the Monarchs to 32.1 percent shooting from the field and shut out Old Dominion’s leading scorer, guard Aaron Bacote. Bacote went 0-for-4 from the field and did not attempt a free throw.
Guard Ambrose Mosley led Old Dominion with 13 points. Forward Richard Ross added 12 points and eight rebounds.
The Blue Raiders led by 11 at halftime and expanded the advantage to 18 after the break. The Monarchs cut the deficit to nine points midway through the second half but were unable to consistently generate enough offense to pose a more serious challenge.
The result was strikingly similar to the first meeting between the two teams, a 64-48 Middle Tennessee State victory on Feb. 1.
Old Dominion’s Ross opened the game’s scoring with a jump shot with 19:06 left. But Middle Tennessee’s rangy, athletic defenders took control of the game from there. The Blue Raiders scored the next 11 points, and the game took on a predictable pattern — the Monarchs having to battle for congested jump shots while the Blue Raiders thrived with runouts, layups and in-rhythm 3-pointers.
Five straight points by guard Kerry Hammonds gave the Blue Raiders their largest lead at 30-15 with 2:18 left. Guard Keenan Palmore and Ross got field goals inside the final minute to send Old Dominion into the half down 30-19.
Ross finished with 10 first-half points, but like the rest of his teammates he was forced to operate on the perimeter. The Monarchs shot just 26.7 percent from the field and were outscored 18-0 in the paint.
Hunter’s 10 points paced the Blue Raiders, who shot 50 percent from the field for the half.
NOTES: Middle Tennessee State finished in a four-way tie for the Conference USA regular-season title with Louisiana Tech, Tulsa and Southern Miss. It was the third straight season the Blue Raiders, formerly of the Sun Belt Conference, have won at least a share of the league title. But Middle Tennessee has not won a conference tournament title in 25 years. … Forward and Conference USA Player of the Year Shawn Jones, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Blue Raiders’ regular-season victory over the Monarchs, had eight points and 11 boards in Thursday’s rematch. … Old Dominion’s 16 victories represent an 11-win improvement over last season when the Monarchs finished with a 5-25 record.
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