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November 29, 2012

Preview: MT at ULL

After returning home for a game, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (4-1) will once again hit the road as the travel to Louisiana to open their conference slate against the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajuns (2-4).

The Blue Raiders will be looking to extend their winning streak to three games before heading back home for another tough slate of out-of-conference games. Tipoff is set for 7:00 PM.

In MT's previous game, they hosted the Texas Southern Tigers inside the "Glass House." The Blue Raiders would start off on fire, jumping out to a double digit lead behind the dominant play of Shawn Jones inside the paint. At halftime, the Blue Raiders held a commanding 41-20 lead.

The second half would be no different as Jones and Marcos Knight would continue to dominate the Tigers, even though the game was already out of hand. Middle Tennessee let off the gas late, but still defeated Texas Southern 79-52 to grab their fourth win of the season.

As for the Ragin Cajuns, they traveled north to take on BIG 10 powerhouse No. 15 Michigan State. ULL played perhaps their best game of the season as they would give the Spartans a run for their money. At halftime, ULL only trailed 33-27.

The second was even closer as the Ragin Cajuns forced 14 Spartan turnovers. With time running out and Lafayette only down by three, Elfrid Payton missed a three-pointer that would have sent the game into overtime. Michigan State would escape the scare and pull out the close victory, 63-60.

Since the 2001-02 season, the Blue Raiders lead the series against ULL 8-5, and are currently riding a seven-game win streak over the Ragin Cajuns.

EARLY SEASON TRENDS

Offensively, Middle Tennessee has shown some improvement over their last two games. They have improved in shooting, connecting on just under 50 percent of their shots from the field. Shooting, at times, has killed the team and they will have to keep working on this throughout the season.

Another area the Blue Raiders have excelled in is in second chance points. Against Texas Southern, MT grabbed 17 offensive boards - nine of which came from Shawn Jones. Also the team has been protecting the ball much better, committing only 16 turnovers combined over the last two games.

Defensively is where the Blue Raiders have been at their strongest. In the last two games they have only allowed an average of 57 points per game, while holding their opponents to just 42 percent shooting from the field. The team has also been amazing at grabbing rebounds. Middle Tennessee has dominated the boards over the last two games, grabbing 73 rebounds, including 43 against Texas Southern.

When it comes to the offense of Lafayette, they are one that really should not be feared. Coming into the game they have only scored an average of 59 points in the last two games, while only shooting 35 percent from the field. They are, however, shooting 37 percent from behind the arc.

The Ragin Cajuns have struggled spreading the wealth as they only have 18 assists in the last two games, only six in their last game. The team will also need to limit their turnovers after committing 30 in those two games.

ULL's defense has not fared much better over the last week, allowing 71 points in the last two games. When it comes to rebounding, they are a middle of the road team, averaging around 28 boards a game. The Ragin Cajun defense is excellent in one area - forcing teams to turn the ball over. In the last two games, ULL has averaged 11 steals per game and forced Michigan State to turn the ball over 20 times.

KEYS TO THE GAME

The key to this Thursday's matchup will be how Middle Tennessee offense plays against Lafayette's defense. While their defense has not been that great on the season, the Blue Raiders can struggle shooting the ball early, which allows teams to stay in the game longer than MT would like. It will be really important that the Blue Raiders open their game like they did in their last, so they can build an early lead and not get behind a team they should beat.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Middle Tennessee:

F Shawn Jones - Coming off a 21 point, 12 rebound performance against Texas Southern, Jones was named the Sun Belt Play of the Week after averaging 19.5 points per game and 12.5 rebounds per game throughout the week. He has put up back-to-back double doubles.

Louisiana Lafayette:

G Elfrid Payton - An exciting player that produces in every phase of the game, Payton put up 20 points, six rebounds and seven steals against Michigan State. He is second on the team in points and rebounds per game with 12.3 and 5.2, respectively. He also leads the team in assists with 4.8 per game.

PREDICTION: MT 73, ULL 56

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will be going into this game as heavy favorites with the Ragin Cajuns and it should play out that way.

The Blue Raiders should be able to have their way on each phase of the game as they are just an all-around better team than Lafayette.

Look for Shawn Jones to have another solid game in the post and keep an eye on Neiko Hunter as he has come on strong the last few games. MT should pull away early and hold on, getting their third straight win on the season and their eighth straight win over the Ragin Cajuns.



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