South Alabama (15-9) at Middle Tennessee (23-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, February 21, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,520) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: USA 9-3, Middle Tennessee 14-0. Away Record: USA 6-4, Middle Tennessee 9-3. Neutral Record: USA 0-2, Middle Tennessee 0-1. Conference Record: USA 12-4, Middle Tennessee 15-1. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 16-12.
GAME NOTES: The top two teams in the East Division of the Sun Belt Conference get together on Thursday night, as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders entertain the South Alabama Jaguars.
The Blue Raiders have a record of 15-1 in league action this season and could wrap up the conference title for the second straight year and the third time in the last four with a win in this contest. Last weekend, MT defeated Arkansas-Little Rock on the road in a 66-61 final, which means the Blue Raiders have extended their overall winning streak to 12 in a row.
When it comes to playing at home these days, the Blue Raiders have won 26 straight regular-season bouts, if you count the one game played earlier this season at Bridgestone Arena.
As for the Jaguars, they too have been successful in Sun Belt play this season with a record of 12-4, but still they, like every other team, trail MT in the standings. Last Thursday, USA was pitted against Louisiana and posted a resounding 88-64 win, the fourth straight and the seventh in eight tries for the program.
The Blue Raiders lead the all-time series between the squads by a 16-12 margin, thanks to four straight wins over USA which includes a 60-56 triumph in the first meeting of the season in early January. Middle Tennessee has won three straight in the series at home.
Augustine Rubit recorded a huge double-double for the Jaguars in their latest outing with his 34 points and 12 rebounds, shooting 12-of-16 at the free-throw line and an impressive 11-of-16 from the floor as the team converted 49.2 percent from the field overall. Mychal Ammons also registered a double-double for the hosts with his 18 points and 11 rebounds, leading the squad to a 44-28 advantage on the glass.
Rubit, a starter in all but one of the team's 16 conference games, is averaging a double-double at the moment with 19.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per outing. Rubit has feasted at the free-throw line in those contest with 114 of his 312 points coming at the stripe. Ammons (10.8 ppg) and Antoine Allen (10.1 ppg) combine for another 9.6 rpg as well as 35 steals, which have helped the program to limit the opposition to 65.9 ppg.
Considering the Blue Raiders have been so dominant in conference play this season, the meeting with UALR on the road was a bit too close for comfort. Against the Trojans, Marcos Knight led four in double figures with his game- high 15 points, followed by Bruce Massey and Raymond Cintron with 11 points apiece and a combined nine rebounds. Kerry Hammonds, one of only two Blue Raiders not to be charged with a turnover, tallied 10 points and seven boards for a squad that ended up with more miscues (21) than field goals (20).
The Blue Raiders are one of the most balanced teams you'll find in college basketball this season, able to score 71.4 ppg and defeat league opponents by an average of almost 15 ppg, while having just one player (Knight, 13.2 ppg) averaging in double figures. Holding foes to just 38.6 percent shooting from the floor means there are plenty of rebounds to be had, and the Blue Raiders are more than ready for those as they hold a rebounding edge of close to eight per game.
It wasn't easy for Middle Tennessee the last time out, but knowing that this game could mean so much towards making the postseason, the Blue Raiders should be ready to take advantage of being at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 73, South Alabama 63
02/21 10:30:55 ET