‘Live Wire’ Eli Lawrence is key to Middle Tennessee’s success

MURFRESBORO, Tenn. — It starts from the incoming pass. The opposing guard, whatever color the opponent is wearing that night, the Murphy Center, begins his quest in the court, while a Blue Raider remains in his back pocket.

It’s teamwork, that’s for sure. But when Middle Tennessee really wants to turn up the heat, he moves his lanky 6-foot-5 starting guard on the ball handler. Now the simple act of breaking the half court, at first an embarrassment, quickly becomes arduous. The tight pressure from the second-year wing forcing crosses, dribbling between the legs, even passing to assist wastes time and gets into the legs of their best player.

Watching Eli Lawrencevery lanky guard Nick McDevitt and the rest of the Blue Raiders look to, the game is relentless. One can only imagine how those opposing ball handlers feel.

“I feel like I’m keeping anybody, pair me with your best player,” Lawrence said. “That’s the challenge I took on this year. Coming in I could always throw the ball, I had an attacking mindset. Defensively, knowing that I could really be that guy for our team was my state of mind. spirit.”

Middle Tennessee men’s basketball has turned a lot of heads not just around the Mid-State, or even around Conference USA, but nationally this season, going from five wins in 2020-21 to 20 already this season. season. And Lawrence, who started all 27 games for the Blue Raiders after starting in three in the previous two seasons, was largely responsible, McDevitt said.

“He and several other guys have really helped our team come together in a relatively short time,” McDevitt said. “It’s comforting as a young player or less experienced player to have your go-to guys around you when you’re on the pitch in those intense times. I really think that’s what Eli is. He brings a sense of confidence on the pitch in his own ability, but also in the ability of his teammates.”

With only Division II offers outside of high school, Lawrence decided to go to prep school in hopes of reaching the Division I level, where the Blue Raider assistant Wes Long noticed it for the first time. MT was Lawrence’s first D1 offer, which he accepted very quickly, signing up in early January 2019.

He was a key reserve over the next two seasons, averaging just under 16 minutes per game and around five points per game both seasons. An energetic guy who often made big plays at both ends of the court, but also made mistakes in a high-risk, high-reward style of play, especially on defense.

Lawrence said he learned a lot from many of his teammates those first two seasons, including CJ Jones (“I watched his game and tried to mirror it a bit my freshman year.”), Antonio Green (“He was a hard worker, always in the gym, I would try to be in the gym with him.”) and Reggie rushesthe current Blue Raiders graduate assistant.

But perhaps the most important thing he learned about himself is this: he hated losing.

“I didn’t expect this,” Lawrence said of the team’s struggles in its first two seasons. “After Middle proposed to me, I went after Michigan State for the win, so I expected a winning culture. It didn’t start that way.

“It was a bit frustrating, because for me personally, I had never been on a losing team or anything like that,” he continued. “And it wasn’t about talent, it was just inner stuff that we had to work on. It didn’t ruin my confidence or anything, but it was very frustrating.”

Those “inner things” were very quickly mended at the start of the 2021-22 cycle, where Lawrence said the team very quickly gelled around the competition they had every day in training. Trying to make the daily training even more competitive than the games made those games easy in comparison.

For Lawrence, that extra competition has helped on the court, where he’s playing nearly 25 minutes a game and has increased his shooting percentages on all three slant lines this season. That, along with a smarter defense setting up his teammates, has been what excites McDevitt the most about Lawrence’s growth.

“He was always a common thread,” McDevitt said. “Just learning to harness that effort and that energy is something that Eli has done a great job of. He takes less risk, so to speak, because he was at the start of his career. Mistakes don’t bother me. not when you can see they’re playing hard and it’s effort errors. And Eli has always been a hard-playing guy.

The level of effort ultimately made him a key cog in the all-out on-pitch pressure the Blue Raiders like to bring this year, while also opening up parts of the game that Lawrence had yet to unlock. Take up this defensive challenge, in every game.

“It’s still a desire for me,” Lawrence said. “In high school, you don’t really have to play that hard because the competition might not be as good as in college. But in college, night after night, you play someone well, you can’ I don’t take any days off.

“I feel like my team is rolling behind me, especially on the defensive side, I feel like I’m pushing them forward. That’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to lead the way. It might not be in my words, but I can lead with actions and show them how to play while you’re between the lines.”

Lawrence said the dream was always to play at the top level, but he doesn’t care about that right now. He’s enjoying the blessing of getting a second-year sophomore this year, when he turns 22 this month, as well as being blessed to be a leader for the team at This year. Always one of the first to celebrate the success of his teammates, McDevitt said Lawrence helps those teammates play with more confidence.

“If you’re out there and you’re never sure how things are on the pitch, when you can look up and see one of your main guys playing with confidence and having faith in you, that bodes well for your team,” McDevitt said.

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