MTSU's Brandon Walters avoids foul trouble, goes off against LA Tech. Can he keep it up?

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MTSU coach Kermit Davis after his team's 72-57 win over LA Tech at Murphy Center on Thursday night. Erik Bacharach/DNJ

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MTSUÕs Brandon Walters (1) brings down a rebound as La TechÕs Daquan Bracey (4) defends him on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.(Photo: HELEN COMER/DNJ)Buy Photo

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MURFREESBORO — It‘s simple, really: there‘s MTSU when Brandon Walters is right, and there‘s MTSU when Brandon Walters is not right.

“When he’s right, our team is totally different,” MTSU coach Kermit Davis said. “Totally different.”

When he‘s right, Walters is everything Davis dreams his big man to be: a menace in the paint, a brawny shot-blocker and rebounder, an irrepressible scorer. In short, a game-changer.

That‘s what Walters was in , when he torched Louisiana Tech for 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 shooting from the line, seven rebounds and three blocks.

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Buy Photo MTSU’s Tyrik Dixon (0) goes up for a shot as La Tech’s Joniah White (5) defends him on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Karl Gamble (25) dunks the ball during the game against La Tech on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Brandon Walters (1) brings down a rebound as La TechÕs Daquan Bracey (4) defends him on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Nick King (5) shoots a free throw after a technical foul was call during the game against La Tech on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Nick King (5) goes up for a shot as La TechÕs Joniah White (5) defends him on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Tyrik Dixon (0) grabs a loose ball as La TechÕs Amorie Archibald (3) goes for it on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.   HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Giddy Potts (20) moves the ball around the court as La TechÕs Daquan Bracey (4) defends him on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Nick King (5) and La TechÕs Jy‘lan Washington (22) both go for rebounds on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSU‘s head coach Kermit Davis yells from the sidelines of the game against La Tech on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Antwain Johnson (2) goes up for a shot as La TechÕs Joniah White (5) defends him on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Brandon Walters (1) brings down a rebound as La TechÕs Daquan Bracey (4) defends him on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo La Tech‘s Derric Jean (1) grabs a rebound during the game against MTSU on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs David Simmons (21) goes up for a shot as La TechÕs Oliver Powell (35) defends him on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Nick King (5) goes to the goal as La TechÕs Anthony Duruji (10) defends him on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSUÕs Giddy Potts (20) goes up for a 3 point shot shot during the game against La Tech on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU.  HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo MTSU graduate student Brandon Moore takes a selfie with the NCAA championship trophy Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. that is on tour to different schools during the basketball season. The trophy was on display at Murphy Center before the menÕs game against La Tech.   HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo The NCAA championship trophy was on display at Murphy Center before the menÕs game against La Tech, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. The currently on tour and will be on display at different schools during the basketball season.   HELEN COMER/DNJBuy Photo The NCAA championship trophy was on display at Murphy Center before the men’s game against La Tech, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. The currently on tour and will be on display at different schools during the basketball season.   HELEN COMER/DNJ

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“I was just locked in,” Walters said, “ready to play.”

All those gaudy numbers, though, may not in fact be bigger than a smaller one: three, the number of fouls Walters committed.

Three fouls allowed the 6-foot-10, 250-pound senior out of Chattanooga to play for 30 minutes, which allowed him to post an immaculate stat line, which allowed MTSU (12-4, 4-0 C-USA) to be a totally different team.

The trick for Walters and the Blue Raiders? Consistency.

Foul trouble is his Achilles‘ heel

When Walters is not right, it‘s foul trouble that weighs him down.

When he commits less than four fouls in a game, Walters is averaging 14.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. When he commits four or five fouls, he is averaging just 8.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks.

Those numbers make perfect sense, of course. Fewer fouls means more playing time means more production. And playing freely while not mired in foul trouble is a different game than playing cautiously while in foul trouble.

But the concern for MTSU is the frequency of each occurrence. Including his standout performance against LA Tech, Walters has committed less than four fouls in just five games this season. He‘s committed four or five fouls in 10 games.

It‘s a work in progress, one that Davis said starts in practice.

“He had his best week of practice in about a month,” Davis said, “and that’s why he played better.

“He (had been) over the top of guys, just picking up really bad basketball-play fouls. And so we just emphasized the last three or four days and you saw tonight, he was really vertical.”

Walters called it “walling up.”

“Jumping,” he said, “instead of staying on my feet. (Davis) is telling me, ‘Jump and be more active and wall up‘ and that’ll get me out of foul trouble and keep me on the floor more.”

So will improved footwork and calculated positioning on defense.

“Just knowing what can you get into foul trouble,” Walters said. “If you’re reaching or not moving your feet fast enough, it can get you in foul trouble. Just trying to be ahead of my opponent.”

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MTSUÕs Brandon Walters (1) brings down a rebound as La TechÕs Daquan Bracey (4) defends him on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at MTSU. (Photo: HELEN COMER/DNJ)

Can he keep it going?

What‘s the key in ensuring Walters is able to maintain a level of consistency?

“You can come to the gym,” Davis said. “See if you can figure it out.”

Beyond anything technical, it‘s Walters‘ maturity, after all, that has been one of Davis‘ biggest projects the past couple of seasons.

“He has a hard time with adversity at practice, but I create adversity at practice for a reason,” Davis said. “It’s not anything big, but it’s just a little bit of immaturity.”

Then Davis offered an important disclaimer.

“Don’t get me wrong, he’s made a ton of progress,” Davis said. “Where he started and where he is now, it’s light years.

“Every time I meet with him, I tell him … ‘I’m just trying to get you to this point that I envision for you.‘ So we’re working toward it. It may be the very last time we play. He may get it (then). I don’t know. But he’s just been a lot more consistent and engaging with his teammates and not just trying to survive practice.”

On Thursday, Walters flashed that discipline. On Friday, when MTSU next plans to practice, he‘ll have to show it again. And he‘ll have to again on Saturday, when the Blue Raiders host Southern Miss.

“It’s coming out every day with that mindset of just being a dominant player on the floor,” Walters said. “Today, I came out ready to play. So I’m going to come out ready to play again Saturday.”

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