MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — According to goBlueRaiders.com, it was a special day inside the Murphy Center Saturday as the Blue Raiders took on UAB. At halftime, Middle Tennessee renamed its arena in honor of former basketball coach and athletics director Jimmy Earle.
Earle, an MT alum who led the Blue Raiders from 1969-79, was the winningest coach in program history with 164 career victories until Kermit Davis surpassed him in 2011. Earle then became athletics director in 1981, a position he held until 1987, and he also was a golf and baseball coach at the university. He was named a conference coach of the year in both basketball and baseball.
The Murphy Center arena will now be called the Monty Hale/Jimmy Earle Arena.
“It was a very special occasion, and what the university has done has touched me and touched my family,” Earle said. “Monte Hale was a very special person, and he was more than the voice of the Blue Raiders. He was the face of our program. To be able to be next to him, that just means the world to me.”
Earle was joined at halftime by dozens of former players, family and friends as the name was unveiled above the gym floor.
Director of Athletics Chris Massaro said he calls Earle the “godfather of basketball” at Middle Tennessee.
“He really built the Murphy Center, and he’s the foundation of our basketball program,” Massaro said. “It’s an appropriate day, and it was really meaningful for us to be able to do that for him. Coach Earle has meant so much to this athletics department and university. It’s an honor to rename the arena after him alongside Monte Hale.”
Despite the special day, Middle Tennessee couldn’t get a win against the Blazers, falling 79-66.
The Blue Raiders held an early 17-12 lead close to the midway point in the first half, but UAB went on a run over the rest of the half to put the game out of reach.
The Blazers had three separate 8-0 spurts in the first half’s last 10 minutes and went into halftime on a 26-6 run and leading 38-23.
“I thought they were the tougher team, particularly in the first half,” MT head coach Nick McDevitt said. “I thought we played them pretty even in the second half, but we just weren’t good enough in the first half.
“I didn’t think we did a good job of defending the ball. … We didn’t bow up well enough, whether it was on post moves or drives to the basket.”
The Blue Raiders played better in the second half, outscoring the Blazers by two, but UAB’s work down low was just too much. It scored 48 of its 79 points in the paint.
Jones, the team’s leading scorer at 16.5 points per game, fourth in Conference USA, didn’t play Wednesday at UAB due to a groin injury. McDevitt said he was happy with Jones’ intensity and aggressiveness despite not practicing much all week. He finished 4 of 10 shooting, including three 3-pointers.
“Today was the first contact action he’s had since last Saturday,” McDevitt said. “He tweaked something in the game against Rice last Saturday … and since then he’s just been trying to get back on the mend.”
Jones and the rest of the Blue Raiders will get at least week to rest up before their next game, which will be the first of four in C-USA Bonus Play. The dates and times of their last four games will be announced Sunday.
“You almost have to have the tournament starts now kind of mindset,” McDevitt said. “You can’t afford to drop any now … we’re going to have to go 3-1 or 4-0 to get into the conference tournament.”