NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Down nine with less than 10 minutes to go against a perennial Southeastern Conference powerhouse, Middle Tennessee State didn't play big. The Blue Raiders went small.
The backcourt caused problems for in-state rival Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee rallied for a 56-52 victory on Friday night.
Reserve Tweety Knight scored a go-ahead layup with 1:08 left. Kerry Hammonds followed by plucking a steal from Kedren Johnson and finished with a layup for a three-point cushion. To cap it off, Raymond Cintron's free throw with 7.5 seconds left clinched the Blue Raiders' first win over Vanderbilt since 1995.
"It looked like we were kind of out of it," Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. "We went small with some minutes to go. We went with four guards and tried to create a little more pressure and a little more havoc defensively."
The Commodores (5-5) led 49-40 with 9:58 left but went scoreless for nearly the next six minutes. Vanderbilt, with no seniors, succumbed to a more experienced team that had six seniors and regularly rotates in 10 players.
Middle Tennessee (9-3) ended the game on a 16-3 run. Bruce Massey, who scored a season-high 17 points, made consecutive baskets to spark the comeback.
It was a slow rally but eventually Shawn Jones and Knight each scored off offensive rebounds to cut the lead to 49-48 with 4:36 left. In addition to forcing 18 turnovers, the Blue Raiders scored 12 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds.
A minute later, Cintron drove the lane to give the Blue Raiders their first lead since late in the first half. Johnson, who scored 25 points, answered with a tough shot inside to put Vanderbilt back on top with 1:56 left.
Knight missed his first layup but wrestled for the rebound with Vanderbilt center Josh Henderson to force a jump ball in favor of Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders pounced on the second-chance opportunity. Marcos Knight lofted a pass to his younger brother, who came open for an easy layup.
Hammonds, who scored a season-high 11 points off the bench, followed with a huge play of his own. He snuck around Johnson, a former AAU teammate, on the back side to knock the ball away in the lane. He then charged down the court for an easy layup.
"I saw Kedren driving and I had missed a couple block outs early," Hammonds said. "So I had to make up for it with that big steal at the end. It means a lot to me personally and to the program also. I don't remember the last time Middle Tennessee beat Vanderbilt. I know I haven't been a part of it. This is a real big win for us."
They don't happen very often.
The Blue Raiders had lost six in a row and this was just the fifth win in 34 meetings. The game was played downtown at Bridgestone Arena, marking the first neutral-site contest between the schools.
In a foul-riddled first half, the Blue Raiders grabbed their largest lead when Marcos Knight finished a 3-point play for a 12-5 lead five minutes in.
Middle Tennessee went quiet from there, failing to score for the next seven minutes.
Vanderbilt charged ahead for a five-point lead and used the foul line to its advantage. The Commodores made 10 of 13 in the first half and the teams combined for 23 free throws.
"It was kind of confusing me," Johnson said. "They didn't really set the flow of what was a foul and what wasn't a foul the whole game and kind of had us guessing how we could play —if it was really physical or if it wasn't really physical. It was pretty physical. It was more like an SEC game I would say."
When Marcos Knight was called for his second foul and the 10th team foul with 8:56 left in the half, Davis didn't agree. The officials disagreed with Davis, who was whistled for a technical foul. Kyle Fuller missed both foul shots for the technical, but Johnson sank his two free throws to give Vanderbilt a 17-12 lead.
The technical woke up the Blue Raiders, Hammonds and Knight in particular. The duo combined for the team's final 17 points of the half. Hammonds sunk a go-ahead 3-pointer. After Vanderbilt regained the lead, Massey banked in a shot with 42 seconds left for a 31-31 tie at halftime.
"As I say sometimes, if you didn't care who won that was a very good college basketball game. Unfortunately I cared who won," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "I think the story of the game came down to their experience and our inexperience. We had the lead and we really had control of the game."