Ed Simpson cut down the nets in Birmingham along with the rest of his Middle Tennessee teammates Saturday when the Blue Raiders won the Conference USA tournament, but he needed a little extra help to get up the ladder.
The St. Martin product wasn't on the court for any of his team's games in the C-USA tournament and he won't play when the No. 15 seed Blue Raiders take on powerhouse Michigan State, a No. 2 seed, at 1:45 p.m. on Friday in St. Louis in the NCAA Tournament's first round.
Simpson suffered a fractured ankle during practice on March 9 in Birmingham as MTSU was making final preparations for the conference tournament.
It was a deflating moment for Simpson and his teammates, but it also became a rallying point for the Blue Raiders on their three-game run to the C-USA championship. Teammates dedicated their tournament run to Simpson and they made sure he had a chance to cut down the nets Saturday at Legacy Arena in Birmingham.
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"It took four or five guys to help me get up the ladder," Simpson said this week. "They were all holding me and I was hopping on my left leg. I got up to the third step and I wasn't going any higher. I pulled the net down for the last little string. It was a nice little experience."
Simpson sat courtside during the conference tournament with his right leg propped up and he will probably be behind the bench Friday in St. Louis.
The sophomore guard decided to delay surgery a week so he could make the trip to St. Louis with teammates and take part in the Big Dance experience.
Having to sit and watch is tough, but the usually upbeat Simpson is taking the injury in stride.
"It was heartbreaking in a way. It was humbling," Simpson said. "It was good to see my teammates pick me up and all the support I got from the coaching staff, the team, fans and the whole community.
"Everything does happen for a reason. I'm keeping my spirits up and praying."
Simpson's coach at St. Martin High School, Charlie Pavlus, gave his former player a call to check in after the injury.
"He was in high spirits," Pavlus said. "He said 'Coach, I'll be back in three or four months. I'll just cheer the team on.' Not one time has he been, 'poor me.' That's tough for a kid that age. I'm extremely disappointed for him, but that's what makes him different from other kids. Those types of kids are always great teammates. Sometimes you run into kids that are super talented that are prima donnas. That wasn't him. He's there supporting his team. When we talk, he's excited bout the tourney."
Simpson was a key contributor for MTSU this season, averaging 5.0 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He played in 30 games, starting 14.
The sharp-shooting Simpson, who was a two-time Sun Herald All-South Mississippi Team member at St. Martin, had his biggest game of the season when he played in front of family and friends at Southern Miss on Feb. 13. He poured in 19 points, hitting five of six 3-pointers to lead the way for the Blue Raiders (24-9).
"It felt so good to go home," Simpson said. "My family and friends were there so it felt like I was home. It felt like I was playing in my backyard at Southern Miss.
"I miss Mississippi. I haven't been home to the Coast for a year now."
The Blue Raiders are huge underdogs against Michigan State (29-5), but their ability to hit the outside shot gives them a fighting chance.
MTSU sophomore guard Giddy Potts leads the nation in 3-point shooting, hitting 50.3 percent of his attempts.
While Simpson is playing the role of a cheerleader on crutches, he looks forward to closing out his career strong with two more years to play.
"The biggest thing I wanted to do this year was continue to develop. With the help of the coaching staff and the players, I'm continuing to do that year by year and game by game. I feel like I'm developing and becoming a better player. I'm getting the playing time. I just want to continue to really work on my game."