"I am so proud of this team and the way they have responded in practices and battled here tonight."
- Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis
Middle Tennessee dug deep to snap its four game Sun Belt losing streak Saturday night as the Raiders overcame injury and foul trouble to knock off Florida Atlantic 74-68 in Boca Raton.
The Blue Raiders won behind stellar efforts from senior guards Kevin Kanaskie and Eric Allen, who combined for 41 points and 20 rebounds while Desmond Yates and Nigel Johnson suffered from foul trouble and Demetrius Green left the game with a sprained ankle.
MT trailed 31-29 at halftime and by as many as seven in the second half, but the Raiders battled back and took the lead for good on a Calvin O'Neil free throw with 2:45 remaining.
MT held FAU scoreless for much of the final 3:30, until the Owls picked up a few meaningless points in the final 30 seconds.
FAU quickly expanded its two point halftime lead to seven points early in the second half and it appeared the Raiders were on the ropes with mounting foul trouble forcing Nigel Johnson and Desmond Yates to the bench. But MT caught a second wind and went on an 8-0 run to take a brief 46-45 lead. Allen and Kanaskie contributed six of the eight points and O'Neil netted the other two. Even though the Owls regained the lead and held by as much as five points later in the game, the spurt by the Raiders gave MT a shot of confidence and ensured they would have a chance to win late in the game.
G Calvin O'NeilClick Here to view this Link.-O'Neil came up with 13 big points and used a good dribble drive to draw fouls and get to the line, where he hit 7-of-9. He also had two key assists.
Honorable Mention: Desmond Yates-Yates again battled foul trouble but did come up with 12 points, including four pivotal points in the final minutes. He also secured some clutch late rebounds.
Season Star Count
WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?
You would certainly have to forgive Blue Raider fans who weren't expecting a big performance from senior guard Eric Allen, who hadn't scored in double figures since MT's season opening win over Trevecca.
But Allen stepped up in a huge way with his 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Allen's season high rebounding total prior to Saturday was five set in the Blue Raiders' first meeting with Houston Baptist way back on November 16th.
Allen scored more points against FAU (17) than he had in MT's previous 13 games (12) in a performance that head coach Kermit Davis would certainly love to know how to bottle and preserve for the rest of the season.
Allen came into this season expecting to be a difference maker with his outside shooting ability, but has not come close to living up to those expectations for most of the year.
If his effort at FAU gives him a shot in the arm for the season's final stretch, then the Raiders will have a much better chance of becoming a contender in the Sun Belt Tournament.
COVERING THE 3-POINT LINE
MT has done a much better job over the last two games defending beyond the 3-point line. The Raiders yielded just 26.3 percent from long range against FAU after allowing South Alabama to make just 1-of-5 (20 percent) from long range in Thursday night's game.
Prior to Thursday's game, the Raiders hadn't held an opponent below 30 percent from behind the arc since playing at UALR on January 17th.
FAU hit just 1-of-5 from long range in the first half and was just 4-of-14 in the second half.
So far this season, the Raiders have surrendered 36 percent from 3-point range, which is more than a percentage point higher than last year's performance.
That is a curious stat considering the 3-point line is a foot further back than it was a year ago, but if the Raiders can use these last two defensive outings and turn a corner in this area, they'll be in much better position to compete against upper end league competition.
Feb. 26: Middle Tennessee at Florida International, 6 p.m.