FIU (4-6) at Middle Tennessee (9-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 29, 6 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,520) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: FIU 1-2, MTSU 5-0. Away Record: FIU 3-4, MTSU 3-2. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, MTSU 1-1. Conference Record: FIU 1-2, MTSU 1-0. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 21-6.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will attempt to keep their perfect record at the Murphy Center alive on Saturday night when they take on the FIU Panthers in a Sun Belt Conference showdown.
This bout marks the final leg of a grueling six-game road trip for FIU, and while it was able to keep its head above water with wins over Stetson (82-79) and Texas Southern (48-45), it fell to 2-3 on the swing following a 76-63 loss at Western Kentucky on Thursday. The Panthers are now just 4-6 on the year.
Middle Tennessee's impressive start to the season has only been tarnished by three difficult losses at Akron (82-77) and Belmont (64-49), and on a neutral floor to nationally-ranked Florida (66-45). The Blue Raiders are currently winners of four of their last five games, most recently dismissing Vanderbilt in Nashville on Dec. 21, 56-52.
The Blue Raiders have dominated the series with FIU of late, winning six straight games to move to 21-6 all-time.
FIU hasn't exactly been terrible at the offensive end of the floor this year, shooting 42.3 percent from the field for 68.6 ppg, but its biggest problem has been keeping opponents off the scoreboard, as it allows teams to shoot a lofty 47.6 percent from the floor for 72.5 ppg. That was again the case on Thursday, as WKU made nearly 55 percent of its shots overall on its way to handing the Panthers the 13-point loss. Despite the setback, Malik Smith was impressive from 3-point range (5-of-11) en route to 20 points, while Jerome Frink (15 points) and Tymell Murphy (14 points, eight rebounds) also put together strong performances. Smith paces the squad with 14.9 ppg, accounting for nearly half of the team's output from 3-point land (32-of-82). Murphy (13.0 ppg) and Frink (10.7 ppg) are both valuable assets in the frontcourt, as each shoots greater than 51 percent from the field while grabbing 6.5 rpg.
Middle Tennessee has seen better shooting days than it had against Vanderbilt the last time out (.438), but some timely buckets down the stretch allowed it to overcome a late deficit to capture the comeback victory. At the defensive end, the Blue Raiders held Vandy to just as many field goals as turnovers committed (18). Bruce Massey was able to overcome his team's modest shooting night by going 7-of-10 from the field for 17 points, while Kerry Hammonds added 11 points off the bench. On the season, the Blue Raiders score just shy of 70 ppg, and they boast a plus-9.8 scoring margin by holding opponents to 42.0 percent field goal efficiency. While only Marcos Knight (11.9 ppg) averages double digits on a nightly basis, the Blue Raiders rely on a deep rotation, as 10 different player net at least four points per contest. Shawn Jones is a reliable option in the frontcourt, tallying 9.8 ppg and 6.0 rpg while shooting 51.1 percent from the floor.
While the Blue Raiders don't have many players that wow you, their comprehensive team effort has worked to great effect this season, and not much is expected to change in this one playing on their home floor against a shaky FIU squad.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 71, FIU 58
12/29 10:37:36 ET