GAME NOTES: After seeing their season-long winning streak extend to double- digits earlier this week, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will try to keep the ball rolling on Saturday night when they host the Troy Trojans in a Sun Belt Conference showdown at the Murphy Center.
Troy was playing well heading into Thursday's clash with South Alabama, having won three of its previous four games, but it came out on the losing end of in a 65-62 road defeat. The loss dropped the Trojans to 10-14 overall, and they are just 5-8 in Sun Belt.
With its 73-60 home triumph over Arkansas State on Thursday night, Middle Tennessee has now won 10 straight games, and it has established itself as the elite team in the Sun Belt, going 21-4 overall and sitting alone in first place with a 13-1 conference mark. The Blue Raiders have been flawless on their home floor this season, winning all 13 games at the Murphy Center.
Middle Tennessee swept the Trojans in the 2011-12 campaign and now have a 10-7 advantage in the all-time series.
Despite building a first half lead on the road against South Alabama earlier in the week, Troy lost control in the second half and was eventually saddled with the three-point loss. The squad shot less than 39 percent from the field in the setback, and while it missed just one free throw, it was outscored at the stripe by a 24-11 margin. Emil Jones had a career-night, shooting 9-of-16 from the field for 23 points while adding seven rebounds and three steals. Hunter Williams tallied 12 points and four assists, while Antoine Myers chipped in 11 points. The Trojans are the worst shooting team in the conference, netting just 40.1 percent of their field goal attempts for a meager 62.9 ppg. Jones is a solid contributor across the board, tallying 11.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.0 apg and 1.7 spg. Hunter Williams is on the cusp of double- digits with 9.9 ppg, and he adds 3.4 apg as well.
The final score of Middle Tennessee's contest with Arkansas State doesn't show just have dominant a performance it was, as it shot 53.6 percent from the field and extended its lead to as many as 31 midway through the second half. Ten players scored in the victory, paced by a stellar showing off the bench by Neiko Hunter, who shot 8-of-11 from the field for 17 points. Marcos Knight was also strong with 15 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. The Blue Raiders are without a doubt the top performing team in the conference, ranking first in scoring defense (58.6 ppg), field goal percentage defense (.404), field goal percentage (.457), 3-point field goal percentage (.372), rebounding margin (+5.7), assists (14.6 apg) and scoring margin (+11.3). Middle Tennessee's dominance has been a complete team effort, as 10 players score at least 3.6 ppg, and only Knight (12.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg) puts up double-digits on a nightly basis.
Middle Tennessee's brand of team basketball has been an amazing success this season, and nothing much expects to change in this home tilt against a lackluster Trojans squad.