The 2012 hoops season finally tipped off Friday night for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders as they hosted the Alabama State Hornets inside the Glass House. Looking to pick up where they left off last season, the Blue Raiders did just that, winning in dominant fashion.
At the beginning of the game, however, it looked as if the Hornets came to play as the two teams would trade the lead back and forth in a closely contested first half. At the 4:31 mark, ASU's Bobby Brown would nail a 3-pointer to give the Hornets a 28-25 lead, but this seemed to awaken the beast inside of the Blue Raiders.
From that mark, MT would heat up and go on a run to end the half, outscoring the Hornets 15-1 to take a 40-29 lead into the locker room. Unfortunately for ASU, the Blue Raiders would only build on that momentum in the second half, holding a double digit lead for the duration of the half on their way to an easy 97-53 victory.
The Blue Raiders were led by senior forward Jason Jones, who played 20 minutes off the bench and shot a perfect 9-for-9 from the field, netting 19 points with three rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
The 97 points were the most that the Blue Raiders have scored since 2010, when MT put up 109 against Houston Baptist.
The Blue Raiders are not set to hit the road for a three game stretch against stiff competition. The first game will be on Tuesday night as the MT travels to Georgia to take on the Savannah State Tigers (1-0).
To start off the season, it looks like a big part of the Middle Tennessee offense will rely on 3-pointers, as the team looks to replace LaRon Dendy inside. The team went 11-for-27 behind the arc, a 40 percent conversion rate, in their first game. Senior guard James Gallman led the way, going 5-for-7 from downtown.
The Blue Raiders also reminded fans just how well they play as a team against ASU, passing the ball around to create their shots in route to finishing the game with 27 assists. Guards Tweety Knight and Bruce Massey combined for 10 of those assists.
Tuesday's opposition will be Savannah State, who played Trinity Baptist in their season opener. The Tigers would jump out to an early 16-1 lead and would never look back as they would go on to win with ease, 84-62. SSU is led by senior forward Rashad Hassan, who had an impressive season debut - scoring 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
Savannah State is a good shooting team and they continued that trend against Trinity Baptist, shooting 55 percent from the field in that contest. When they do miss shots they are good at getting second chance points as they dominated the offensive boards with 14. Junior forward Jyles Smith led the team in rebounding in the first game with 11 boards - six of those coming on the offensive end.
The key to Tuesday's game will be who can control the boards. Both teams won the rebounding battle in their first games as the Blue Raiders totaled 41 rebounds while the Tigers hauled in 38 boards. Whoever can pull ahead in this department will greatly improve their chances of winning the game.
JT Sulton - scored eight points and hauled in nine rebounds against Alabama State. Has been nursing a back injury so it will be interesting to see where he is at physically as the Blue Raiders really need him in the post.
Jyles Smith - scored eight points and tallied 11 rebounds against Trinity Baptist. His battle in the post with the likes of Sulton, Torin Walker, Shawn Jones and Neiko Hunter will go a long way in leading SSU to a potential victory.
This game will prove to be just like the Blue Raiders first game of the season in many ways. Look for both teams to trade the lead back and forth early on with neither being able to jump out to a big lead.
Look for the second half to be key as the depth of Middle Tennessee will start to show and they will begin to pull away using their slew of talented shooters.
If Middle Tennessee can continue to shoot well from beyond the arc and from the charity stripe like they did in the first game, they should be able to win by pulling away late.