Middle Tennessee (13-4) at ULM (3-9)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 12, 5 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Fant-Ewing Coliseum (7,085) -- Monroe, Louisiana. Television: None. Home Record: MTSU 9-0, ULM 2-3. Away Record: MTSU 4-3, ULM 1-6. Neutral Record: MTSU 0-1, ULM 0-0. Conference Record: MTSU 5-1, ULM 2-4. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 7-6.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will try to continue their reign atop the Sun Belt Conference standings on Saturday evening when they face off against the ULM Warhawks at Fant-Ewing Coliseum.
Middle Tennessee's season has been rock-solid at 13-4, and its only loss in six tries against Sun Belt opponents came in a 66-60 overtime defeat at Arkansas State on Jan. 3. That was the Blue Raiders' only loss in their last seven matchups, and the team's most recent outing resulted in a 62-52 win over visiting Florida Atlantic.
Although ULM has already matched its win total from the 2011-12 campaign, it is hard to call its 3-9 mark this season a rousing success. The Warhawks had experienced some highs with Sun Belt wins over Florida Atlantic (65-64) and North Texas (81-68), but they went back to their losing ways on Thursday night as they dropped a 64-55 decision at Troy.
Middle Tennessee defeated ULM last season in Monroe, 94-61, to take a 7-6 lead in the all-time series.
The Blue Raiders opened up a double-digit lead over FAU at intermission on Thursday night and they never looked back, shooting 50 percent from the floor while holding the Owls to 40.5 percent and goading them into 15 turnovers. Marcos Knight tallied 13 points, five assists and two steals in the triumph, while Bruce Massey (10 points, six rebounds) and Neiko Hunter (12 points, six rebounds) were also impressive. One look at Middle Tennessee's numbers on the season (.437 FG percentage, 68.2 ppg) may raise questions as to why its record is as strong as it is, but its been the team's outstanding play at the defensive end (58.8 ppg) that is the primary reason. The only player to average double figures in points for MT is Knight, who nets 12.5 ppg while also adding 5.8 rpg, 2.0 apg and 1.4 apg. The Blue Raiders depend on every player who suits up, as nine guys net at least 4.2 ppg, and 12 tally at least 1.8 ppg.
ULM played well in the first half against Troy, shooting 56 percent from the floor as it went into intermission with a lead, but it quickly lost control of the game after the break and was eventually saddled with the nine-point loss. Amos Olatayo played well in 27 minutes off the bench, tallying 17 points and eight rebounds, but the only other player to score in double-digits was Marcelis Hansberry with 11 points. The Warhawks' season has been a statistical disaster, as they not only score a Sun Belt-low 59.3 ppg, but in allowing their opponents to net 70.2 ppg, they also boast the league's worst scoring margin at minus-10.8. Olatayo has only appeared in eight games this season, but he's been a huge boost he's on the floor, averaging 13.4 ppg and 5.0 rpg. Trent Mackey scores 11.4 ppg and does the majority of his damage from beyond the arc, draining 33-of-82 3-point tries (.402). Jayon James stuffs the stat sheet with 10.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4.7 apg and 1.2 spg, but he has also committed a team-high 61 turnovers.
ULM holds home court in this matchup, but that's about the only advantage it will have against the most well-balanced team in the Sun Belt. Expect Middle Tennessee to put this one away relatively early.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 73, ULM 58
01/12 10:33:34 ET