Southern Miss (21-4) at Middle Tennessee (18-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 15, 2 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,520) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: CSS. Home Record: USM 11-0, MT 12-2. Away Record: USM 7-4, MT 5-4. Neutral Record: USM 3-0, MT 1-1. Conference Record: USM 8-2, MT 8-2. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: With first place in Conference USA on the line, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will play host to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at the Murphy Center on Saturday afternoon.
Both USM and Middle Tennessee are 8-2 in C-USA and are locked up in a four-way tie for first place with Louisiana Tech and Texas-El Paso.
USM had been won seven straight heading into its most recent game and was in the driver's seat for the regular-season conference title before it suffered a major setback at UAB on Thursday night by losing in blowout fashion, 84-60. The Golden Eagles are still an outstanding 21-4 overall this season, which includes a stellar 7-4 road mark.
Middle Tennessee has been surging up the standings in recent weeks with six consecutive wins, which includes a dominant performance versus Tulane on Thursday night in a 71-44 triumph. The Blue Raiders are 18-7 overall on the campaign and have been especially great at the Murphy Center (12-2).
These newly-formed conference rivals haven't played one another since the 1958-59 season. Each side has defeated the other once.
The Golden Eagles came out flat in their most recent contest trailing by 12 at the half to UAB, and things only got worse after intermission on their way to the 24-point loss. They were outshot from the field, 53.3 percent to 36.8 percent, and outscored from 3-point range, 33-6. Michael Craig was one of the few standouts in the loss with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, while Jeremiah Eason scored 12 points off the bench and Daveon Boardingham tallied eight points and eight rebounds.
It was an atypical performance for USM, which has played excellent on both ends of the floor this season by shooting 46.4 percent from the field for 72.8 ppg while allowing just 62.5 ppg on 42.5 percent shooting. It also lives comfortably in the green in terms of its rebounding (+7.3) and turnover (+2.4) margins. Although no one scores more than Craig's 11.6 ppg, five players net at least 9.0 ppg and nine pour in 3.6 ppg or more. Craig also adds a team-best 7.8 rpg, Neil Watson (11.6 ppg) has drained 49 3-pointers at a 39.5 percent clip and hands out 4.0 apg and Boardingham chips in 10.6 ppg on 57.9 percent from the field.
Although the Blue Raiders shot just 38.2 percent from the field earlier in the week, they still rolled to the convincing 27-point victory by holding Tulane to a mere 30 percent shooting, outscoring it at the free-throw line (22-8) and claiming both the rebounding (44-34) and turnover (14-7) battles. Shawn Jones set the tone in the frontcourt with 17 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. Kerry Hammonds led the team in scoring with 18 points on 4-of-7 from 3-point range, while Neiko Hunter pitched in 13 points.
Much like its adversary, Middle Tennessee has performed well both offensively (.458 FG percentage, 73.6 ppg) and defensively (65.1 ppg) this season. Jones has established himself as one of C-USA's best big men with 15.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.9 bpg and 0.9 spg, all while shooting 58.7 percent from the field. Hunter (13.2 ppg) and Hammonds (12.3 ppg) are also impressive scorers, while Tweety Knight (7.4 ppg) hands out 4.6 apg and swipes 2.1 spg.
As good as USM has played this season, it has been vulnerable on the road, as it clearly showed against UAB on Thursday. Against a surging Blue Raiders who have been outstanding at home, the Golden Eagles will have a difficult time regaining momentum.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 71, Southern Miss 67
02/15 10:40:57 ET