GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will play their final non- conference game on Tuesday night, as they visit the Tennessee State Tigers at the Gentry Center.
The Blue Raiders, who are in their first season as a member of Conference USA, following 13 years in the Sun Belt, are sitting at 9-5 entering this contest. A 79-56 rout of Grand Canyon last time out ended a two-game slide for the team. However, Middle Tennessee is only 1-3 on the road. Fortunately, it will host its first three C-USA tilts against UAB, Texas-El Paso and Texas-San Antonio.
Tennessee State has already opened its Ohio Valley Conference schedule, splitting a pair of game with a loss to Tennessee Tech and a win against Jacksonville State. The victory over the Gamecocks was just the second of the season for the Tigers. It also ended a four-game losing streak. TSU will play three straight road games next, beginning with Saturday's trip to Southeast Missouri State.
These in-state rivals have met in each of the last three years, with Middle Tennessee claimed a 77-48 triumph last season. The victory was the eighth straight for the Blue Raiders over the Tigers, and improved their record in the all-time series to 35-16.
In their recent win over Grand Canyon, the Blue Raiders had 18 assists and only four turnovers. They also took 22 more shots than did the Antelopes, who they outscored, 24-1, off of turnovers. Shawn Jones nearly had a double-double (18 points, nine rebounds, four blocks) to lead the way.
Jones (13.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg) is the most consistent player on the roster, leading the team in points and rebounds, while shooting an efficient 61.1 percent from the floor. Although he missed out on one against Grand Canyon, Jones has notched five double-doubles this season, including a 16-point, 20-rebound effort in the previous game. Neiko Hunter (13.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Kerry Hammonds (11.9 ppg) are each averaging in double figures as well, although Hammonds only connects on 36.3 percent from the floor. Tweety Knight (8 ppg, 5 apg) is not the scoring threat others are, but he excels in setting up his teammates.
The Tigers, desperate for a win, finally got one against Jacksonville State. They only shot at a 43.1 percent clip, but they outscored the Gamecocks both from 3-point range and at the free-throw line. A 35-28 advantage on the boards also helped.
A rather large scoring disparity has kept Tennessee State down this season. The Tigers are being outscored by nearly nine ppg, as they net just 65.7 and shoot only 40.8 from the floor. A stagnant offensive effort is to blame, as they only dole out 10.5 assists per game. Patrick Miller (21 ppg, 4.3 apg) is the only bona fide scorer on the roster, and he also does a fine job as a distributor. Miller tied for a game-high with 19 points against Jacksonville State, and also handed out four assists. M.J. Rhett (10.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg) is consistent on the boards, but doesn't score enough to be considered a real second option.
Even though they were able to defend their home court last time out, the Tigers have not shown enough consistency. The Blue Raiders struggle on the road, but that won't be an issue here.
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