Titans’ Kevin Byard Given MTSU Student-Athletic Center Naming Rights

MTSU Head Coach Rick Stockstill and Kevin Byard. Photo: Courtesy of Emily Cole and MTSU Athletics

They don’t call Kevin Byard the “Mayor of Murfreesboro” for nothing. Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU)’s Blue Raider Athletic Association announced that the current Tennessee Titans star and former Blue Raider student-athlete has given a significant gift to the Build Blue Campaign.

The gift, along with his accomplishments on and off the field, will give Byard naming rights to the strength and conditioning space in the new Student-Athlete Performance Center.

“I am super excited about the future of MTSU athletics and the impact that this new facility will have for not only recruiting, but the development of the student-athletes,” says Byard. “I am proud to be an alumnus of this great institution.”

The Build Blue Campaign has now secured over $18 million in donor cash, donor pledges and additional funds towards the over $100 million in transformational changes coming to the athletic facility landscape at MTSU. More than 300 individuals and families have contributed to the Build Blue campaign so far.

“During his time at MTSU, Kevin embodied what a student-athlete is all about in the leadership and high character he displayed in all facets of his life,” says Director of Athletics Chris Massaro. “This generous gift is another demonstration of his leadership, and we are extremely grateful for all that Kevin has done and continues to do for his university. KB was one of the hardest working student-athletes we have ever had, and we are proud to carry that legacy for generations to come. We are honored to put his name on the strength and conditioning center.”

Byard, a four-year starter for the Blue Raiders from 2012-2015, ended his career as the program’s all-time leader in interceptions (19), interception return yards (377), interception return touchdowns (4) and is one of just nine players in school history with 300 or more tackles. A team captain, Byard forced or gained 25 turnovers (19 INT, 5 FF, 1 FR) in 49 career games played.

The Lithonia, Georgia native was a First Team All-Conference selection as well as a FWAA Freshman All-American, while leading the team in interceptions all four years. MTSU retired his number 20 on Sept. 30, 2022, making it only the second football number to be retired in school history.

“I can’t thank Kevin enough for what he has done and is doing for Middle Tennessee football,” says Head Coach Rick Stockstill. “Kevin will always have a special place in my heart because of the respect, love and appreciation I have for him.”

MTSU’s goal for the Build Blue Campaign was increased to $20 million in September and construction on the $66-million Student-Athlete Performance Center is expected to begin next month.

The three-story, 85,500-square-foot performance center will provide all MTSU student-athletes with new facilities for weight training, nutrition and sports medicine. It will also be the new home for Blue Raider Football, allowing MTSU to relocate their football operations from Murphy Center to Floyd Stadium.

Nashville Sports Council & PNC Bank Collaborate On Women, HBCU Content Series

The Nashville Sports Council and PNC Bank have come together to celebrate women in sports at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Nashville with content series “Through Her Eyes.”

“Through Her Eyes” will spotlight female athletes, coaches and administrators across the region over the next year, giving a first-person voice to local women.

The new content series aligns with PNC’s commitment to HBCUs and women in sports across the U.S. Last year, the Nashville Sports Council and PNC Bank hosted the first-ever Women in Motorsports panel in Nashville.

“As Chair of the Nashville Sports Council’s Women in Sports Committee, it is my pleasure to see this initiative relaunched with a focus on HBCUs,” says Sheila Gibson, Chair of the Women in Sports Committee. “We are grateful for yet another collaboration with PNC Bank as we reaffirm our initiative’s commitment to amplifying women’s voices in our community.”

“HBCUs play an integral role to creating a strong talent pipeline and driving economic competitiveness in our state,” says Mike Johnson, PNC Regional President for Tennessee. “We’re proud to support this important initiative, which also reflects our longstanding advocacy for women financial decision makers and our passion for celebrating student athlete success.”

In 2022, PNC announced its nationwide $88 billion Community Benefits Plan, which is inclusive of a previously announced $1.5 billion commitment to support the economic empowerment of Black Americans and low- and moderate-income communities.

The first “Through Her Eyes” feature will be released later this month during Women’s History Month, focusing on Fisk University Athletics Director and gymnastics coach Corrinne Tarver. She was the first Black gymnast to win an all-around NCAA Championship while a star athlete at the University of Georgia. After her collegiate and Team USA careers, Tarver went on to have a successful in college athletics departments across America.

Tarver now leads Fisk’s new gymnastics program, which made history earlier this year as the first HBCU program to compete at the NCAA level.

The content series will live on the Nashville Sports Council’s website throughout the year.

Lady Raiders’ Stellar Season Comes To A Close After NCAA Tournament Loss

Photo: Courtesy of Middle Tennessee Athletics

After one of their best seasons ever, Middle Tennessee women’s basketball ended their 2023 season in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, falling to the No. 6 seed against Colorado 82-60 on Saturday night (March 18).

The Lady Raiders (28-5), struggled to slow down the Buffalo (24-8) attack, getting doubled up the first quarter, 22-11, after a cold start shooting from the floor (4-for-16). MTSU then climbed back into the game late in the second quarter, cutting the Colorado lead to as few as five points, but a 9-0 run in the final 1:21 of the half from the Buffs left MTSU further behind at the break, 42-28.

“I thought that Colorado came out and really really played,” said Head Coach Rick Insell postgame. “I think they’re averaging five threes a game and tonight they made 13 threes. And we played pretty good defense. On our offensive end, they were very aggressive with us, not allowing us to get into our offense. I didn’t say they were fouling now, they were aggressive, they did a good job. Their game plan was excellent, they caused us problems early and knocked down some shots.

“My girls, they didn’t quit. They just kept playing and executing. I was real proud of them, they had a heck of a season. We put them in the fire all year long and they’ve done a good job.”

MTSU lost Colorado’s shooters in transition as the Buffs sped up the game in the third quarter, setting the net on fire with a 6-for-9 clip beyond the arc in the frame to increase their lead to 26 at the quarter break, making the fourth quarter a formality to end the first game of the night at the Durham Tournament site.

“They were aggressive, with the post players, up top, setting screens,” said junior guard Savannah Wheeler. “All we had to do is try to match their physicality. Credit to them. You know, they did a great job of defending . I thought we had a heck of a year. I’m really proud of this group. Proud that I came here. And just ready to get back to work for next season.”

Wheeler did all she could in her first taste of NCAA action, scoring 15 points at point guard. Kseniya Malashka found success offensively in her final game as a Lady Raider, nailing one of MTSU’s only three pointers of the night while finishing around the rim, ending the night with 13 points. Anastasiia Boldyreva was the only MTSU player to shoot above 50 percent during the night, finishing her evening with 6-of-8 shooting and leading the team with 16 points.

The Lady Raiders found themselves on the Associated Press’s Top 25 multiple times throughout the season and won both the Conference USA regular season championship and conference tournament.

Vanderbilt Stays Alive In NIT With Comeback Win Over Michigan

Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Vanderbilt continues to roll through the NIT after pulling off a comeback in the final minute to beat Michigan 66-65 in the NIT Second Round at Memorial Gym on Saturday, March 18.

The Commodores went on a brilliant 9-0 run in the last minute of the game, lifting them over an eight-point deficit to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals of the NIT.

“That was Memorial Magic if you’ve ever seen it before. We just kept fighting, and we found a way,” said Vanderbilt Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse in a postgame interview.

Tyrin Lawrence shined scoring a game-high of 24 points including a 3-point play with 58 seconds remaining, starting Vandy’s comeback rally. Ezra Manjon made a pair of free throws and a driving layup in adding 17 points. Lawrence added a team-best nine rebounds, with Quentin Millora-Brown contributing five, and Colin Smith scored all 11 of his points for Vandy in the first half. Vanderbilt overcame a 39-23 deficit on the boards by forcing 15 turnovers and outscoring Michigan 34-22 in the paint.

The Commodores are now set to face the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the NIT quarterfinals which will be hosted at Memorial Gym on Wednesday, March 22 at 6 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.

Vanderbilt Set To Host Michigan In NIT After Beating Yale In Round One

Tyrin Lawrence with teammates. Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Vanderbilt played with a vengeance last night (March 14), defeating Yale 71-62 in the first round of the NIT at Memorial Gym. Vandy will be hosting Michigan for a second round matchup this Saturday, March 19.

The Commodores scored the first 11 points of the game in its 2023 postseason debut, and kept a steady 10-20 point lead for a majority of the game. Yale, a top program from the Ivy League, fought and was able to get back within five points with about seven minutes left, but nothing could get in the way of Vandy winning this game.

“I thought that was a really tough game. I love how our guys came out from the start,” said Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse in a postgame press conference. “We talked about urgency and I think they really came out and set the tone for the game. They’re a really tough team to play, they really execute, they have guys who can make shots all over the floor. We knew they were going to make a run, which they did, but I thought we sustained that run and found a way to make a run ourselves.”

Tyrin Lawrence scored a career-best 25 points and added seven rebounds for the Commodores (21-14), while Ezra Manjon chipped in with 18 points and Quentin Millora-Brown scored seven to go along with a season-high 13 rebounds.

The Commodores defense showed up big time even without SEC Defensive Player of the Year Liam Robbins, who is out for the season. Vandy limited Yale to 36.4 percent shooting from the field and made 20 of 27 attempts from the free-throw line.

“Our guys made big plays after big plays and we made our free throws down the stretch,” continued Stackhouse. “That’s a team that averages 76 points per game and for us to hold them to 62 points is a great feat for us and a testament to our defense, and we have to continue to play with that type of urgency and that type of effort on the defensive end to continue to advance.”

The Memorial madness will continue with Big Ten powerhouse Michigan on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT. Tickets are on sale and can be purchased on Vanderbilt Athletics’ website.

Tickets On Sale Now For Tennessee Vs. Virginia Kickoff Game At Nissan Stadium

Tickets for the highly anticipated 2023 college football season opener between the Tennessee Volunteers and Virginia Cavaliers on Sept. 2 are available now.

“We look forward to having the Vols and Cavaliers kick off the opening weekend of college football here in Nashville,” says Nashville Sports Council President & CEO Scott Ramsey. “We know their loyal fanbases will converge [in] Music City and help showcase what makes this one of the best atmospheres for college football in the country.”

This will be the third time Tennessee has played in a regular season, non-conference game at Nissan Stadium since taking on Bowling Green in 2015 and Wyoming in 2002. The Vols, who are coming off of 11-2 season, last played at Nissan Stadium in December during the 2021 TransPerfect Music City Bowl.

Virginia returns to Nissan Stadium for the first time since 2005, when they took on Minnesota in the then- Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl presented by Bridgestone. The Cavaliers won that game 34-31 on a late field goal, and quarterback Marques Hagans, who now serves as Virginia’s Associate Head Coach and wide receivers coach, was named MVP.

A kickoff time for the opener will be announced at a later date. Fans can purchase tickets through Ticketmaster.

College Corner: Vandy Headed To NIT, MTSU Lady’s Continue Dominance, Belmont Women’s Headed To WNIT

Vanderbilt Headed To The NIT After NCAA Tournament Snub

Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Despite their fantastic 2022-2023 season and their SEC Tournament semifinals appearance, Vanderbilt was not selected to the 2023 NCAA Tournament but will be playing in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).

The Commodores finished with a record of 20-14 and conference record of 11-7 with wins against Tennessee, Auburn, Mississippi State and Kentucky, all of which are in the NCAA Tournament. Vandy made it to the SEC Tournament semifinals where they struggled to keep up with Texas A&M who won 87-75.

Vandy will head to their second-straight NIT appearance as a No. 3 seed, hosting Yale on Tuesday, March 14 at 8 p.m. in the opening round. The game will air live on ESPNU.

Game tickets and parking will be available for purchase on vucommodores.com. Current men’s basketball season ticket holders will be able to purchase their same seats from the 2022-2023 season by logging into their ticket account. The cost for reserved seating is $20 and student tickets are $10, and with Vanderbilt University on spring break a limited number of general admission tickets – available in the student section (Sections G-K) – will be available for $15 each.

The Commodores have advanced to the quarterfinals in each of their last two NIT appearances including last year after earning wins over Belmont and Dayton. Vandy is 22-12 all-time in the event.


MTSU Lady Blue Raiders Selected As No. 11 Seed After Winning CUSA Tournament

MTSU Lady Blue Raiders at Selection Sunday watch party. Photo: Courtesy of MTSU Athletics

No. 25 MSTU women’s basketball will be traveling to Durham, North Carolina to start the Lady Raiders’ NCAA Tournament, as MTSU earned the No. 11 seed in the Seattle Regional 4 on Saturday, March 18.

MTSU will face off against No. 6 seeded Colorado on Saturday, who ranked No. 20 in the final AP Poll of the season. This will be Middle Tennessee’s 20th NCAA Tournament appearance and the 11th appearance under Head Coach Rick Insell.

“We’re excited about where we’re going,” Insell says. “We’ll live out tonight, celebrate being in the tournament. We’re not going to practice tomorrow. But Tuesday, we’ll get back on the floor wide open and get ready to win that first game.”

The Conference USA Regular Season and Tournament champion Lady Raiders (28-4) will be facing the Buffaloes (23-8) for the first time in program history. Colorado will be making their 15th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and the second appearance in a row as an at-large team after falling in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals to Washington State, 61-49. The Buffaloes 2022 NCAA appearance was the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the program since 2013.

The No. 11 seed is the best MTSU has earned since being a No. 8 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. MTSU was a No. 14 seed the last time the Lady Raiders earned an NCAA Tournament berth for the 2021 Tournament.

No. 3 seeded Duke (AP No. 13) is the hosting institution for the opening two rounds of the host site, playing No. 14 seed Iona in the other first round game. The winners of the first round games will then play in the second round on Monday.

Belmont Women’s Basketball Falls In MVC Tournament Final, Headed To WNIT

Belmont women’s basketball. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics

The Belmont women’s basketball team finishes their first season in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) on a down note, losing to Drake 89-71 in the conference tournament final.

But this isn’t the end for the Bruins postseason campaign as they have been selected to the 2023 WNIT as an at-large bid. Belmont finished the season with a 23-11 record and a 17-3 conference record with help from All-Conference players Destinee Wells and Madison Bartley. Wells was also named to the MVC All-Tournament Team.

The Bruins won the MVC Regular Season Championship, sharing the title with Illinois State and clinching a No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

The first round of the national postseason tournament will be played either Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, March 15-17. The full bracket with matchup, location, game date and time will be announced later today (March 13).

SEC Tournament Preview: Does Vanderbilt Stand A Chance?

Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

There is nothing quite like March Madness, and Nashville college hoops are at the center of the madness. Between teams like MTSU and Belmont, there is always something to watch, but the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena is the main event in town before teams head to the Dance.

This year, there are a lot of questions surrounding the big teams and some expectations rising for teams that aren’t usually basketball powerhouses. Tennessee and Auburn are obvious contenders for the championship and will be NCAA Tournament teams regardless, but both teams haven’t looked as dominant as they have in recent years.

Tennessee was a clear favorite going into this year but suffered some major losses and are currently without Zakai Zeigler, who is injured. They are still probably one of the favorites to win the SEC Tournament but anything can happen.

Alabama is currently sitting at No. 4 in the country and is predicted to be a Final Four team. They are the heavy favorites to not only win the SEC but the National Championship as well.

That leads us the “middle of the pack” teams, which includes Vanderbilt. The Commodores have had one of their best seasons in nearly a decade, led by SEC Co-Coach of the Year Jerry Stackhouse. They have won 11 conference games against ranked Tennessee, Kentucky and Auburn. Vandy finished the season with a 12-5 home record. Though they won’t be at Memorial Gym, they will be right down the street at Bridgestone which is sure to help.

Vanderbilt has a great team that can definitely fight for a spot in the semifinals, but how fan can they go?

This Commodores team is very talented with players like Jordan Wright, Tyrin Lawrence and 2023 Defensive Player of the Year Liam Robbins. The only issue is Robbins suffered an injury in the final game of the season. He averaged 15 ppg, 6.8 rpg and blocked 82 shots. His presence will be greatly missed in the SEC Tournament as the dominant teams fight their hardest to prove they are the best.

But some of Vanderbilt’s most clutch moments of the season came from guys like Wright, Lawrence and Ezra Manjon. This team is still a major threat to the top contenders and needs a deep run in the conference tournament if they want any chance of getting a bid in the NCAA Tournament.

The Commodores have found themselves on NCAA Tournament mock brackets, just missing the tournament. With a few bad wins and an already stacked field, it’s going to be hard for Vandy to make it to the big Dance, but it’s not impossible. Today (March 9), the ‘Dores will face LSU at 8 p.m. A few weeks ago, Vandy lost to the Tigers 84-77 in Baton Rouge but it’s safe to say that Vanderbilt is still the favorite to win.

If they can beat LSU, the Commodores will then face Kentucky, who they just beat last week. From here it will be an uphill battle and Vandy will need to play sharp. This season, Vanderbilt has averaged 72 ppg while allowing opponents to score 71.7 ppg. They played tight games all year long and will definitely need to bring it down to the wire, feeding off of the panic from these top teams, which was a key factor in them taking down Tennessee and Kentucky.

Vandy will look to their veteran players like Wright and 6’10 fifth-year senior Quentin Millora-Brown to step up big time and lead the team. With the absence of Robbins, Millora-Brown is essential to the Commodores success as height and strong defense will make or break the ‘Dores. It will be a difficult few days for Vanderbilt and their loyal fans, but if they can bring a little Memorial magic to Bridgestone Arena, the Commodores could have an exciting Selection Sunday.