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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 16, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Jack Stephens Center (5,600) -- Little Rock, Arkansas. Television: None. Home Record: MT 14-0, UALR 11-2. Away Record: MT 8-3, UALR 3-8. Neutral Record: MT 0-1, UALR 1-1. Conference Record: MT 14-1, UALR 9-6. Series Record: Arkansas Little-Rock leads, 13-10.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders hope to continue their reign atop the Sun Belt Conference standings on Saturday night, as they face a road test against the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans at the Jack Stephens Center.
At 22-4 overall and 14-1 in league play, Middle Tennessee has established itself at the Sun Belt's elite squad, and it has been playing its best basketball of the season in recent weeks with an outstanding 11-game winning streak. The Blue Raiders put forth their best all-around performance of the season in a 93-41 home win over Troy last Saturday. With one more win, head coach Kermit Davis will surpass Ronnie Arrow as the conference's all-time winningest coach with 113 league victories.
UALR took on Arkansas State on Thursday with first place in the SBC West Division on the line, but it fell on the wrong side of an 86-62 final to drop to 15-11 overall and 9-6 in conference. The Trojans will surely have their hands full in this matchup, but the good news is that they are a stellar 11-2 at home this season.
Middle Tennessee won the first meeting between the two teams back on Jan. 17, 82-50, but UALR holds a 13-10 advantage in the all-time series, which includes a 7-4 mark in Little Rock.
It was pure domination for Middle Tennessee from start to finish in its latest bout, as the team shot an astounding 64.4 percent from the field while holding Troy to a meager 30.6 percent. The 52-point margin of victory was MT's the largest against a conference opponent since joining the Sun Belt. Raymond Cintron was outstanding from 3-point range (6-of-8), and he paced all scorers with 20 points, JT Sulton netted 11 points on a perfect night from the foul line (7-of-7), while Shawn Jones, James Gallman and Marcos Knight each poured in 10 points. Middle Tennessee has become accustomed to balanced efforts. Even though it ranks second in the league in scoring at 70.7 ppg, Knight is the only player to average double figure with his 12.6 ppg. The Blue Raiders rely on a deep rotation, with seven others netting least 5.2 ppg. In addition to their scoring depth, they also have the league's top-ranked defense (57.9 ppg) and they sport positive turnover (+2.2) and rebounding (+6.3) margins as well.
UALR trailed ASU from the outset in its 24-point setback earlier this week, as the club shot less than 38 percent from the field and committed 18 turnovers. John Gillon made the most of his time off the bench, shooting 3-of-4 from 3- point range for 11 points, while Josh Hagins netted 11 points as well. On the season, the Trojans' scoring offense (67.2 ppg) and scoring defense (66.2 ppg) may appear modest at best, but they have been good enough to be one of just five Sun Belt teams with a positive scoring margin (+1.0). They are also the third-most accurate 3-point shooting team in the SBC, draining 36 percent of their long-range tries. Will Neighbour has been solid in the frontcourt, tallying 11.1 ppg and 6.9 rpg, while shooting nearly 47 percent from the floor. Gillon (9.8 ppg), Hagins (8.4 ppg, 3.0 apg) and James White (8.3 ppg) round out a balanced attack.
Despite being fresh off a tough loss, UALR is very dangerous on its home floor, and an upset here is certainly possible. Still, Middle Tennessee has been fantastic all season long, even on the road, and it will use its balanced brand of basketball to extend its winning streak to a cool dozen.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 67, Arkansas Little Rock 63
02/16 10:34:27 ET
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