GAME NOTES: Attempting to stay perfect on their home floor this season, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will entertain the Louisiana Ragin' Cajun in Sun Belt Conference action on Saturday night.
At 7-13, Louisiana is one of the biggest disappointments in the Sun Belt, and it has yet to register back-to-back wins on the season. Following a 72-49 defeat at the hands of Western Kentucky on Thursday night, the Cajuns fell to 3-6 in conference and a dreadful 1-10 on the road.
Middle Tennessee has been one of the hottest mid-major teams in the nation in recent weeks, as it has won four in a row and eight of its last nine to improve its record to 15-4. The Blue Raiders recently took care of business at home against Arkansas-Little Rock, 82-50, and they are now a perfect 10-0 at the Murphy Center.
The Blue Raiders are riding a seven-game win streak against the Cajuns, and in the process they have taken a 10-6 lead in the all-time series.
The Cajuns actually led WKU by two late in the first half, but the Hilltoppers ended the frame on a 13-0 run and Louisiana would never recover. It was the worst shooting performance of the season for the Cajuns, as they drained just 17-of-59 attempts from the field (.288). Shawn Long's final stat line appeared impressive (11 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks), but he shot only 4-of-15. Elfrid Payton added 14 points and a pair of steals in the setback. Louisiana is used to putting forth much better offensive performances, as it ranks second in the league in points per game at 70.1 ppg, but its downfall has been its last-ranked scoring defense, yielding 73.2 ppg to opponents. Long is one of the conference's top big men, ranking in the top-5 in the Sun Belt in scoring (15.5 ppg), rebounding (10.1 rpg) and block shots (2.1 bpg). Payton is also a multi-faceted producer with 14.7 ppg and 6.0 rpg, as well as league- best marks of 5.1 apg and 2.3 spg. Bryant Mbamalu (14.0 ppg) usually rounds out an impressive scoring trio, but he is expected to miss 2-3 weeks with a thumb injury.
The Blue Raiders barely broke a sweat in their 32-point victory on Thursday, as they shot a lofty 56 percent from the field while holding UALR to 35.3 percent. Five players scored in double-figures for Middle Tennessee, paced by 15 points from Neiko Hunter. Shawn Jones netted 12 points, Marcos Knight chipped in 11, Tweety Knight recorded 10 points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals, and Raymond Cintron netted 10 points as well. The balanced effort was nothing new for the squad. Marcos Knight (12.6 ppg) may be the only player to score in double figures on a nightly basis, but eight others turn in at least 4.1 ppg. Head coach Kermit Davis keeps his team fresh by incorporating several starting lineup combinations as well, as 11 players have seen action as starters. The strategy has panned out for Middle Tennessee, as it scores 68.8 ppg while allowing opponents just 58.3 ppg for a Sun Belt-best +10.6 scoring margin.
Simply put, Middle Tennessee's dominance at home combined with Louisiana's poor play on the road does not bode well for the Cajuns, especially without one of their best players in Mbamalu.