Tennessee State (4-6) at Middle Tennessee (7-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, December 18, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,520) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: TSU 2-0, MTSU 4-0. Away Record: TSU 1-5, MTSU 3-2. Neutral Record: TSU 1-1, MTSU 0-1. Conference Record: TSU 0-0, MTSU 0-0. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 39-16.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders attempt to keep their undefeated home record intact, as they play host to the Tennessee State Tigers on Tuesday night.
Tennessee State's season got off to a disappointing start, with losses in its first three games and five of its first six, but since then it has been able to climb closer to .500 with wins in four of its last five. The Tigers are fresh off their most dominating performance of the year, a 79-39 rout of LeMoyne-Owen on Sunday.
After winning 27 games last season, Middle Tennessee has picked up where it left off by winning seven of its first 10 of 2012-13, with signature wins against UCF (75-61) and Ole Miss (65-62). The Blue Raiders took a short trip north to Nashville on Dec. 13 to battle Belmont, but they ended up on the wrong end of a 64-49 final.
Middle Tennessee leads the all-time series with its in-state rival by a 39-16 margin. The Blue Raiders won the last meeting, 77-53, on Dec. 29, 2010, giving them victories in 11 of the last 12 meetings.
Tennessee State's season has been wildly inconsistent, scoring 76 points or more on four occasions while logging fewer than 60 points three times, which has resulted in 67.5 ppg on just 40.1 percent shooting from the field. The Tigers were clicking on cylinders in the 40-point win over LeMoyne-Owen, going 26-of-54 from the floor (.481), including 7-of-15 from 3-point range while forcing their opponent into more turnovers (18) than field goals (16). Robert Covington shined in the victory, shooting 9-of-17 from the field and 10-of-11 from the foul line for 31 points, breaking his previous career-high of 30 points put up two different times during the 2011-12 campaign. The senior forward added 11 rebounds and two blocks for good measure, and he now averages team-highs of 17.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg. As he has been all season, Kellen Thornton was a solid second scoring option in the win with 17 points, upping his season average to 14.6 ppg in the process. Patrick Miller shoots just 35.2 percent from the floor for his 10.3 ppg, but he makes up for it by dishing out 6.5 apg and recording 2.3 spg.
Assessing the season as a whole, Middle Tennessee has been a balanced squad, possessing positive scoring (plus-8.4), rebounding (plus-4.5) and turnover (plus-3.2) margins, but it lost all three of those battles in the disappointing 15-point setback against Belmont. The Blue Raiders shot a lowly 28.6 percent from the field, which included only three makes in 16 attempts from beyond the arc. They were without a double-digit scorer in the game, as JT Sulton put forth the best performance with nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes off the bench. Middle Tennessee hasn't been a terribly explosive team on offense (.434 FG percentage, 70.1 ppg), but it relies on production from the bench on a nightly basis, as nine different players average at least 4.4 ppg. Marcos Knight tallies 12.4 ppg and 5.2 rpg, while Shawn Jones logs 9.7 ppg and a team-high 6.1 rpg. Tweety Knight scores just 6.0 ppg but shoots a lofty 66.7 percent from the field and leads the team with 18 steals.
Covington is the best player on the floor in this matchup, and that alone will give Tennessee State a fighting chance. But while Middle Tennessee hasn't wowed anybody thus far, it has been rock solid, especially at home, giving the Blue Raiders the advantage.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 70, Tennessee State 63
12/18 10:32:39 ET