Middle Tennessee (4-1) at Louisiana (2-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, November 29, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Cajundome (11,550) -- Lafayette, Louisiana. Television: None. Home Record: MT 2-0, Louisiana 2-0. Away Record: MT 2-1, Louisiana 0-4. Neutral Record: MT 0-0, Louisiana 0-0. Conference Record: MT 0-0, Louisiana 0-0. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 10-6.
GAMES NOTES: Both the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders and the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns will get their Sun Belt Conference slates underway this Thursday when the two squads collide at the Cajundome.
Other than a 66-45 loss on the road to Florida, Middle Tennessee has enjoyed a strong start with four wins in five games. The Blue Raiders are 2-1 on the road during that time and have won three of their games by at least 14 points. This is the first of a two-game stint on the road for Middle Tennessee, which concludes on Sunday against Akron.
A missed 3-pointer at the buzzer by Elfrid Payton ended Louisiana's upset bid on the road against Michigan State this past Sunday. The loss was the second straight for the Ragin'' Cajuns and the fourth in four road games. Louisiana is a different team at home where it has accumulated wins in each of its two contests, each by double digits. Louisiana has a two-game road trip beginning Saturday up next.
In the all-time series Middle Tennessee has the edge with wins in 10 of the previous 16 meetings. In just one meeting last season Middle Tennessee won 65-53 at home to earn its seventh straight victory over the Cajuns.
Middle Tennessee easily ran past Texas Southern, 79-52 last time out. The Blue Raiders built a 41-20 lead at halftime by shooting an even 50.0 percent from the field while holding Texas Southern to only seven first-half field goals. From there the Blue Raiders didn't need much to earn the victory. Middle Tennessee really controlled the boards in the win with 46 rebounds to just 24 for Texas Southern. Shawn Jones was the standout with a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double.
The Blue Raiders have been playing well on both ends of the floor this season. As a team the Blue Raiders score a healthy 70.8 points per game and shoot at a 44.8 percent clip. Defensively the Blue Raiders hold opponents to just 57.4 points per game, while also managing a +8.0 margin in rebounding. Jones (!2.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg) is the top man on the glass and one of just two scorers to be averaging in double figures. Marco Knight (12.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is the other although his shooting has been off thus far (37.5 FG percentage). The rest of the offensive load is spread throughout the roster with eight other players scoring at least four points a game. Seven of those players have also fit into the starting lineup at one point.
Louisiana trailed for the entire second half against Michigan State but clawed its way to within two points (62-60) with less than a minute left. However the Ragin' Cajuns missed a pair of shots in the final 50 seconds and fell just short. Louisiana shot just 40.4 percent from the field in the game but kept it close by knocking down seven triples. The Ragin' Cajuns were also outrebounded 40-28. Elfrid was the lead scorer with 20 points despite missing the game- tying shot at the end.
Despite holding team's to just 41.4 percent shooting this season, Louisiana is still holding a -2.2 scoring margin overall. That's largely because the Ragin' Cajuns are only shooting 41.0 percent themselves while being outrebounded by a -7.1 differential. Normally forward Shawn Long (15.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is the top offensive weapon for the Ragin'' Cajuns. Although not the top scorer against Michigan State he still turned in a strong effort with 16 points and eight rebounds. Payton (12.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.8 apg) is the second leading scorer on the roster while also leading the team in assists and steals (2.5 pg). Bryant Mbamalu (9.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg) has the ability to get into double figures but the rest of the squad lacks much scoring punch.
There have been very few holes in Middle Tennessee's game thus far. Having balance on both ends of the court will benefit the Blue Raiders on the road in this contest.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 73, Louisiana 67
11/29 10:38:12 ET