Arkansas-Little Rock (11-8) at Middle Tennessee (14-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 17, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,520) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: UALR 10-1, MTSU 9-0. Away Record: UALR 0-6, MTSU 5-3. Neutral Record: UALR 1-1, MTSU 0-1. Conference Record: UALR 5-3, MTSU 6-1. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 6-4.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will try to continue their reign atop the Sun Belt Conference on Thursday night, as they host the Arkansas- Little Rock Trojans at the Murphy Center.
UALR has won three of its last four matchups, including an 88-76 verdict against FIU last Saturday, but it's been a tale of two seasons during the 2012-13 campaign. On one hand, the Trojans have been spectacular at home, going 10-1 in Little Rock. However, things have not gone so smoothly on the road, where they have dropped all six of their matchups.
Middle Tennessee has been a model of consistency this season, as it has yet to lose back-to-back games en route to a fantastic 14-4 record, and at 6-1 in the Sun Belt it sits in sole possession of first place in the East Division. The Blue Raiders are winners of three straight games, most recently downing ULM on the road, 66-57.
Middle Tennessee won the latest matchup against UALR, 68-60, on Feb. 11, 2012, to take a 6-4 advantage in the all-time series.
The Trojans had their most impressive shooting performances of the season, making 59.2 percent of their attempts from the floor while also logging season-highs in both made free throws (24) and assists (21) on their way to a 12-point victory over FIU. Michael Javes and Will Neighbour led the way with 15 points apiece, James White put up 14 points, Ben Dillard scored 11 points, and Josh Hagins tallied 10 points and seven rebounds. The outburst for UALR was far from the norm, but it has been well-balanced this season, ranking in the league's top-five in both scoring offense (69.1 ppg) and scoring defense (65.7 ppg), and while its .438 field goal percentage may seem modest, it's the best in the conference. Neighbour makes good on nearly 49 percent of his field goal attempts for 11.4 ppg, while adding more than a block and a steal per game at the defensive end of the court. With John Gillon (10.8 ppg) expected to miss some more time with a sore knee, James White (9.4 ppg) is the squad's next best scoring threat.
The Blue Raiders were able to hold off ULM last Saturday by shooting 43.1 percent from the field, 80.8 percent from the foul line, and by dominating the rebounding battle, 40-22. Marcos Knight was fantastic in the triumph, tallying 17 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals, while Bruce Massey added 12 points. Middle Tennessee boasts a league-best plus-9.4 scoring margin (more than double the second-place team), but its season has been much less flashy than one would imagine. Knight is the only player to score in double- digits on a nightly basis, putting up 12.7 ppg and adding 5.9 rpg, 2.2 apg and 1.4 spg for good measure. The team relies on a deep rotation, as seven players net at least 4.9 ppg and 11 play at least 8.8 minutes per game. Shawn Jones has been a mainstay in the starting lineup alongside Knight, putting up 9.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 1.0 bpg.
Middle Tennessee has been outstanding on its home floor this season, winning all nine matchups at the Murphy Center, and that combined with UALR's road woes should mean good things for the Blue Raiders on Thursday night.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 70, Arkansas-Little Rock 60
01/17 10:36:41 ET