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January 13, 2012The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders left the cold weather of Tennessee to head south to Florida for the sun to shine down on them. However, this trip is not a vacation for MT - they went to Florida to take care of the Florida International Golden Panthers and the Florida Atlantic Owls. First up for the Raiders was the Golden Panthers.
These two teams met once already in the Murphy Center and the Blue Raiders walked away with a win. The Golden Panthers wanted to get their revenge find a spark to turn their season around.
The game started off with both teams going back and forth, with MT grabbing an early lead only to see FIU battle back in the opening frame. The Golden Panthers would go into halftime up 29-26 and for the first time in Sun Belt play, the Blue Raiders were down at halftime.
In the second half, however, MT took the game over and reminded the Golden Panthers that they were the number one team in the SBC. MT would go on to beat FIU 70-59 and continue to remain unbeaten in conference play.
The win gives the Blue Raiders a 16-2 (5-0 SBC) record. MT continues to stay on the winning path as they stretch their winning streak to eight games and have sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt conference. The Blue Raiders will rest up in the state of Florida before their game against the FAU on Saturday. That game is scheduled to tip off at 7:00 CT.
In the first half the Blue Raiders offense struggled and shot just 9 of 27 from the floor and only managed to hit one three pointer on 10 attempts. The offensive struggles in the first half kept the Golden Panthers in the game, helping them build confidence along the way. Pulling away from teams early in the first half has been a common trend for MT, but this game was different. The Blue Raiders didn't let their struggles bother them though as they kept trying to get their shots to go down.
Although the offense held MT back, their defensive play kept them in the game. The Blue Raiders took advantage of five early FIU turnovers and put them on a 10-2 run. Later, the Golden Panther would go on an 11-1 run that tied things up before eventually grabbing the lead from the Blue Raiders. MT's defense kept FIU from running away with the game though, and at the break MT only trailed by three.
Coming out of halftime the Blue Raiders had a new look. The offense started to play better and they improved their shooting by hitting 52% of their shots in the second half. The offense started to click. On top on their improved offensive play MT increased their intensity on defense. The Blue Raiders defense made FIU struggle and the Golden Panthers were just 7 of 24 shooting in the second half.
Along with the offense and defense stepping up, the bench of the Blue Raiders also did their part. The bench contributed 34 points to the game and helped keep the pressure on FIU while the starters were getting rest. Forward Shawn Jones provided a spark for the Blue Raiders. He had 10 points, three rebounds, and two blocks coming off the bench. The bench helped ease the frustrations for the starters and helped them regain their focus.
The Blue Raiders will be looking to improve their win streak to nine games on Saturday, and will look to head home with a commanding lead on the Sun Belt's Eastern division.
The Stat Sheet:
MT looked liked two different teams in the game but the stats hide this a bit. The Blue Raiders largest lead in the game was 16 points. Despite the offense's improved play in the second half, they still struggled in areas from an overall perspective. They shot 42% from the field but just 3 of 13 from behind the arc. MT continues to improve their free throw percentage as they converted 67% of their attempts from the charity stripe.
FIU team looked like a different team as well throughout this game. The Golden Panther's largest lead was three points. Their offense struggled in the game as well as they only hit 38% from the field and only managed to convert 5 of 14 from behind the three-point line. FIU's struggles even stretched to the free throw line where they shot 57%.
Four players led on the stat sheet for MT:
Forward JT Sulton led the team with 10 points, eight rebounds, two steals and a block.
Forward Shawn Jones tied Sulton for the team high in points with 10 to go along with three rebounds and two blocks.
Guard Bruce Massey tallied nine points, a team-high three assists and two steals.
Center LaRon Dendy contributed nine points, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
Two players led the stat sheet for FIU:
Forward Dominique Ferguson had a game-high 20 points while pulling down nine rebounds.
Guard Jeremy Allen posted a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds to go along with two steals.
Middle Tennessee NEWS