Arkansas State (14-8) at Middle Tennessee (20-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, February 7, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,520) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: ASU 11-2, MT 12-0. Away Record: ASU 3-6, MT 8-3. Neutral Record: ASU 0-0, MT 0-1. Conference Record: ASU 8-5, MT 12-1. Series Record: Series is tied, 14-14.
GAME NOTES: Two of the Sun Belt Conference's best teams are set for a Thursday night showdown, as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders play host to the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
Arkansas State defeated North Texas in thrilling fashion last Saturday, 75-66 in overtime, to close out a three-game homestand undefeated and improve to 14-8 overall and 8-5 in league play, the latter of which has it tied for first place in the Sun Belt's West Division. The Red Wolves haven't had much success on the road however, losing two straight and six of nine total bouts on the road.
Middle Tennessee has established itself as the elite team in the conference, as it has now won a season-high nine straight games following a 73-56 win over Florida Atlantic last Saturday. The triumph moved the Blue Raiders to 12-1 in conference, and at 20-4 overall, they've now reached the 20-win plateau in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the late 1980s. They have also been flawless at home, winning all 12 matchups at the Murphy Center this season.
Middle Tennessee's lone Sun Belt loss this season came against Arkansas State on Jan. 3, in a 66-60 final in overtime, which tied the all-time series between the two teams at 14-14.
Arkansas State seemed to be dead in the water when it trailed North Texas by seven points in the final minute last weekend, but a Cameron Golden 3-pointer with four seconds left capped off a 9-2 run while tying the game, and it went on to dominate the overtime period en route to the comeback victory. Golden ended the night 4-of-9 from long range for a career-high-tying 18 points, while Ed Townsel made up for a poor night from the field (3-of-12) by going 8- of-10 from the foul line on his way to 15 points. Trey Finn tallied 14 points, six rebounds and five steals, Kendrick Washington scored 10 points off the bench, and Brandon Peterson grabbed 14 rebounds in the well-rounded effort. The Red Wolves have been strong at both ends of the floor this season, averaging 69.2 ppg while allowing a mere 62.9 ppg to their opponents. Despite shooting just 37.8 percent from the floor, Townsel serves as the leading scorer with 14.6 ppg, sniffing out the passing lanes as well with a pair of steals per contest. Peterson brings a physical presence to the paint with nearly a double-double average of 10.6 points and 9.6 caroms per contest.
The Blue Raiders shot a lofty 55.3 percent from the field in their 17-point victory over FAU last Saturday, as they led the game wire-to-wire. Acting as the catalyst was Raymond Cintron, who came off the bench to shoot 6-of-10 from the field with four 3-pointers to register 16 points. Marcos Knight added 13 points and six boards, while Kerry Hammonds and JT Sulton scored 12 points apiece. Middle Tennessee is the only team in the Sun Belt that boasts as strong a scoring margin as Arkansas State, pouring in 11.2 ppg more than it allows, while it also ranks first in rebounding (+5.7) and third in turnover differential (+2.4). The squad's success this season has been rather unorthodox, as it relies on an effective rotation of 10 players who score at least 3.6 ppg, only one of which averages double digits (Knight, 12.6 ppg). Head coach Kermit Davis has mixed and matched 11 players in a starting lineup that changes nearly every time out.
Arkansas State has been very impressive this season, but it has had its fair share of problems on the road, and going up against the red-hot Blue Raiders, the odds are stacked against the Red Wolves in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 72, Arkansas State 63
02/07 10:35:42 ET