FACTS & STATS: Site: Super Pit (9,797) -- Denton, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: MT 11-0, UNT 5-4. Away Record: MT 5-3, UNT 1-7. Neutral Record: MT 0-1, UNT 2-1. Conference Record: MT 8-1, UNT 3-6. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 10-6.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will try to continue their reign atop the Sun Belt Conference standings on Thursday night, as they have made the trek to Denton to take on the North Texas Mean Green at the Super Pit.
Middle Tennessee is in the midst of an outstanding 16-4 season, which includes wins in eight of its nine Sun Belt matchups. The Blue Raiders are playing their best basketball of the season in recent weeks, as they have won five in a row and nine of their last 10 overall, with their most recent triumph coming in an 82-60 decision over Louisiana last Saturday.
As for North Texas, its campaign has been largely a disappointment, as it has lost twice as many league games as it has won (3-6), and is just 8-12 overall. The Mean Green have started to turn things around of late however, posting wins in two of their last three, including a 61-59 overtime victory at Florida Atlantic last Saturday.
The Blue Raiders have won four straight games against North Texas to take a 10-6 lead in the all-time series.
Middle Tennessee opened up a 20-point halftime advantage against Louisiana last weekend, and cruised to the easy victory from there. Sparking the Blue Raiders in the triumph was Kerry Hammonds, who missed just one of his 11 field goal attempts and was on fire from 3-point range (6-of-7) en route to 27 points, surpassing his previous season-high of 11. Raymond Cintron (12 points), Shawn Jones (nine points, 10 rebounds), and Tweety Knight (five points, six assists) were all impressive coming off the bench. MT has been solid at both the offensive (69.5 ppg) and defensive (58.3 ppg) ends this season thanks to a true team effort up and down the bench. Head coach Kermit Davis incorporates a deep rotation to keep fresh legs on the floor at all times, as 11 different players have seen time in the starting lineup. Marcos Knight (12.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.5 spg) is the only player averaging double figures in scoring, but seven others net between 5.4 and 9.5 ppg.
The Mean Green nearly blew their matchup against FAU by shooting a lowly 38.3 percent from the field, but they played outstanding defense by holding the Owls to just 36.8 percent. North Texas also had an impressive showing from the foul line (23-of-31), which proved to be the difference in the overtime thriler. Tony Mitchell was strong in the triumph with 24 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, while Jordan Williams (14 points) and Roger Franklin (12 points) also put forth quality efforts. Mitchell has clearly been the team's catalyst, as he is putting up 14.4 ppg, 8.6 ppg, 2.7 bpg and 1.3 spg, while shooting 45.1 percent from the field, but as the preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, his performance (and his team's record) has fallen short of expectations. Mitchell is surrounded by adequate scorers in Jordan Williams (11.4 ppg), Alzee Williams (10.7 ppg) and Franklin (10.2 ppg), but the Mean Green rank eighth in the conference in scoring (66.6 ppg).
If you want an example of how strong team basketball trumps superstar talent, look no further than the difference between Middle Tennessee's success and North Texas's disappointment. The Blue Raiders should have no problem overcoming this road hurdle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 68, North Texas 62
01/24 10:34:39 ET
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