"Nobody is going to feel sorry for the Raiders so we're not going to feel sorry for ourselves."
- Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis
Middle Tennessee hoped to reverse its Sun Belt road game doldrums at Troy Thursday night, but the Blue Raiders suffered a 70-64 setback to the Trojans after a long second half scoring drought put them in an 18 point hole.
MT fought back in the closing minutes to narrow the gap, but what had been a 30-25 halftime lead for the Raiders quickly evaporated as MT failed to gain any offensive rhythm in the second half.
Troy opened an 11-1 lead to start the game, but MT battled back and took the lead late in the half thanks in large measure to strong backcourt play by reserve guard DeMario Williams.
Troy guard Brandon Hazzard sparked the Trojans in the second half with a pair of big 3-pointers and 16 total second half points.
MT led 32-25 after the first possession of the second half but fortunes quickly turned for the worse for the Blue Raiders. Desmond Yates hit a jumper with 15:50 remaining to make the lead 34-30, but that would be the last basket for MT until nearly eight minutes later. Over that span, Troy went on a 19-0 run to separate the game. The Raiders turned the ball over three times and missed 11 straight shots during the dry spell.
F Desmond YatesClick Here to view this Link.-Yates was a non-factor for too many long stretches, but he did manage to finish with 18 points on just 11 shots.
Honorable Mention: Calvin O'Neil-O'Neil hit a key first half 3-pointer and only contributed one of MT's 18 turnovers.
Season Star Count
Middle Tennessee's senior guard trio of Nigel Johnson, Kevin Kanaskie, and Demetrius Green was supposed to be the biggest strength of the team this season.
But they have collectively struggled as the Raiders have found the recent going difficult.
Their combined output at Troy Thursday night was awful. They combined to hit just 2-of-19 field goal attempts, with only five points and seven turnovers.
Green got in foul trouble early and was never a factor. Johnson took some ill advised shots against the zone, fumbled the ball on forced drives, and fouled out with zero points. Kanaskie shot poorly and had an uncharacteristically sloppy three turnovers.
Head coach Kermit Davis indicated after the game he may elect to shuffle the perimeter starting lineup for Saturday's game against North Texas in an effort to jolt his veterans back to a high level of play.
DeMario Williams very well could end up in the starting lineup against the Mean Green.
Eric Allen may also get the call.
THE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT
The Blue Raiders were able to achieve some of their pregame goals, which provides a small silver lining to the loss.
MT mostly owned the boards and played mostly outstanding defense in the first half.
The Raiders got some great performances from their reserves, as the bench tallied 36 points to help counter disappointing efforts from the starters.
Going into the game, if the MT staff would have known the Raiders would hold Troy to 43 percent shooting and out rebound the Trojans by 12, they probably would have taken it and expected a win.
But overcoming such a poor effort from their critically important senior backcourt was impossible against a Troy team that is looking more and more like a serious Sun Belt championship contender.
Thursday's loss carries stiff penalties for the Blue Raiders as they eye their postseason goals. Troy moved two games up in the loss column on MT for third place overall in the Sun Belt and for all intents and purposes eliminated any remaining hopes at a regular season league championship.
The overall third place finisher in the Sun Belt receives a first round bye in the conference tournament, along with each division winner.
With five games left in the regular season schedule, it's looking increasingly likely that the Raiders will have to survive a first round game to make it to the final eight team bracket in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
They were able to advance that way last year with a first round win over ULM and used that as a springboard to the conference championship game, but certainly after a 5-0 league start the hope was that they could bypass a first round challenge this year.
Feb. 14: North Texas at Middle Tennessee, 5 p.m.