College Basketball Insider

MTSU's win over Ole Miss holds special meaning for coach Davis

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Kermit Davis had never won a game against an SEC school. (US Presswire)  
Kermit Davis had never won a game against an SEC school. (US Presswire)  

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. -- About 10 minutes after the final buzzer sounded to make Kermit Davis' first win ever over an SEC school official, the 10th-year coach at Middle Tennessee walked back out to the court to do a radio interview, and that's when the cheers got loud.

"All right, Kermit!" a man yelled from the stands.

There must've been about 150 MTSU fans still hanging around the DeSoto Civic Center.

Roughly half of them were actually related to Davis.

Seriously. Half.

Southaven is a suburb of Memphis just across the Tennessee-Mississippi stateline. It's best known as the place best-selling author John Grisham grew up, and it's recently been in the news because its mayor -- a now-divorced Republican who once campaigned as a family values candidate -- acknowledged publicly, while caught in a scandal, that he is gay.

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But there's not an MTSU fan from here to Murfreesboro who will remember this town for either of those reasons, for Grisham or Davis or books or scandals. Rather, they'll remember this place -- and this Wednesday night -- for the Blue Raiders' 68-56 win over Ole Miss that gave the school its first victory against an SEC opponent since 1995 and Davis his first victory against an SEC school ever.

That it came against the Rebels was especially nice.

Why?

Because Davis was raised in Starkville.

He played at Mississippi State and his father coached at Mississippi State.

That, by definition, means he hates Ole Miss.

"I've got a lot of relatives [around here]; my brother lives in Olive Branch," Davis said in reference to Southaven's neighboring city. "So many of my aunts and uncles and cousins live in Memphis. My dad and mother and sister live in Tupelo. So I had a lot friends [here], a lot of Mississippi State people that I grew up around. So that was fun. That was. I don't care what you say, it wasn't just another game."

No, it wasn't.

It was a memorable game for Davis and this program.

And it was the 13th game in a season that could be special.

The Blue Raiders are now 11-2 with wins over a Pac-12 school (UCLA) and an SEC school (Ole Miss), and I know UCLA and Ole Miss aren't very good, but to stress that point would be to miss the point. The point is that MTSU should never beat a Pac-12 member or SEC member in anything, regardless of the circumstances. But the Blue Raiders have wins over both leagues this season, and they are, statistically right now, the Sun Belt's best team.

MTSU starts league play next week against Florida International.

A trip to the NCAA tournament is the goal and within reach.

"We've got a chance," Davis said. "I think we've got a chance this season."

Which means the best might be yet to come for Davis, but who could know for sure? So for now Wednesday's effort serves as the career-topping memory because a Mississippi State graduate returned to his home state and beat Ole Miss while friends and family looked on, and that's not a bad way to head into the Christmas holiday.

"To win a game like this and then be able to go to Tupelo and spend a couple of days with my dad and mother, it doesn't get much better than that," Davis said. "That's for sure."


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.
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