Middle Tennessee State did things during the regular season that few Sun Belt Conference teams ever had. That included 25 victories, the most in conference history.
Sunday, the Blue Raiders opened the postseason in a manner that was almost equally rare. They became the fourth No. 1 seed in the 36-year history of the league that failed to reach the conference tournament semifinals when they were upset 64-61 by Arkansas State, the ninth seed.
MTSU (25-6) is guaranteed a spot in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) by virtue of the fact that it was the conference’s regular-season champion, It has not been to the NCAA tournament since 1989 and is almost certainly not going to get an at-large invitation this season. Its current RPI is 47 and it has no victories over teams among the top 50.
The Blue Raiders missed five free throws, including three by conference player of the year LaRon Dendy, in the final 58.7 seconds.
Raymond Cintron scored a team-high 15 points. Dendy added 14 points and seven rebounds, and Marcos Knight had 13.
Trey Finn led Arkansas State (14-19) with 16 points. He also had seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. Brandon Peterson had 13 points and a game-high eight rebounds.