Old Dominion (16-16) vs. Middle Tennessee (23-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 13, 4:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Don Haskins Center (12,222) -- El Paso, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: ODU 10-6, MTSU 14-2. Away Record: ODU 5-8, MTSU 8-5. Neutral Record: ODU 1-2, MTSU 1-1. Conference Record: ODU 9-7, MTSU 13-3. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders continue their quest back to the NCAA Tournament on Thursday as they battle the sixth-seeded Old Dominion Monarchs in the quarterfinal round of the Conference USA Tournament at the Don Haskins Center.
The winner of this contest will advance to the semifinals to face the victor of the bout between Tulane and Tulsa.
The Monarchs are one of the most improved teams in the nation as they finished the 2012-13 season, their last as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, with a 5-25 overall ledger. Old Dominion used a strong second half to pull away for a 73-58 victory over the No. 14 Marshall Thundering Herd in its C-USA Tournament debut on Wednesday. The win was the second in a row for the Monarchs, who had not won back-to-back games since going on a four- game run from Jan. 4-18. Coach Jeff Jones had to be pleased as his team, which ranks last in the C-USA in free-throw percentage (.610), outscored Marshall, 23-11, at the charity stripe.
Middle Tennessee is hoping to return to the Big Dance after being defeated in the First-Four round in Dayton in 2013. The Blue Raiders won 11 of their final 12 games to notch their third consecutive regular-season conference championship, with the first two coming in the Sun Belt. They are still only the No. 3 seed for the tourney since they tied for first in the C-USA standings with Tulsa, Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech and had the third-best head-to-head record among the group. Coach Kermit Davis's squad is converting 45.4 percent of its field goal attempts for 71.2 ppg and limits its opposition to an average of 62.3 ppg on just 41.2 percent efficiency from the floor.
This will be just the third meeting in history between ODU and the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee improved to 2-0 versus the Monarchs with a 64-48 decision in Murfreesboro on Feb. 1.
ODU's dramatic improvement in the win column came courtesy of some stifling defense, as its opponents convert only 41.7 percent from the field for a mere 64.7 ppg. The Thundering Herd had no answers for the Monarchs' defense on Wednesday. Marshall hit on a mere 41.2 percent of its field goal tries, including just 5-of-20 from 3-point range, and finished with only three assists against 15 turnovers. Sophomore guard Aaron Bacote tallied 25 points and eight boards for ODU, while junior guard Dimitri Batten chimed in with 13 points and seven rebounds. Bacote is the key player for the Monarchs on the campaign with 16.6 ppg and 3.0 apg, while Batten (10.8 ppg) and junior forward Richard Ross (10 ppg, 7.1 rpg) also play vital roles.
Senior Shawn Jones is the only Blue Raider to have started in all 30 games this season and paces the team with 14.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg. The 6-foot-8 forward was named the C-USA Player of the Year following thanks to his various contributions. Jones also ranks second in the conference in field goal percentage (.581), fourth in double-doubles (10) and in C-USA games, second in blocks (2.5). Fellow seniors Neiko Hunter, Kerry Hammonds II and Tweety Knight also provide leadership and experience for the unit. Hunter is the team's second option on the offensive end with 12.9 ppg and Hammonds is close behind at 12.4 ppg. Knight fills up the stat sheet on a consistent basis with seven ppg, 4.7 apg and 2.1 spg.
Although ODU was overpowered by the Blue Raiders at the Murphy Center earlier this season and is playing its second game in as many days, it could give the Blue Raiders a challenge. Middle Tennessee has been barely edging inferior oppositions outside of its own arena in recent weeks, but its solid core of upperclassmen should be able to find a way to help it advance.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 66, Old Dominion 62
03/13 10:34:18 ET