Gainesville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The undefeated Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders play their first road game of the season on Thursday night, as they pay a visit to the 16th-ranked Florida Gators for a non-conference matchup at the O'Connell Center.
Middle Tennessee is 4-0 on the young season, the team topping the likes of Southern (78-75), North Florida (77-70), Akron (80-73) and Arkansas-Little Rock (76-59) all at home. The Blue Raiders own a national-best 32-game home winning streak during the regular season, and they have won conference titles in three of the past four years as a member of the Sun Belt, but now they'll try to continue their luck this season as part of Conference USA.
Florida is 3-1 after the first couple of weeks, the team logging relatively easy wins over North Florida (77-69), Arkansas-Little Rock (86-56) and Southern (67-53), while their lone setback came in a matchup with a very good Wisconsin team on the road (59-53). The Gators have tough non-league games against Florida State, Kansas and Memphis coming up, and they'll open SEC play versus South Carolina on Jan. 8, 2014.
This bout marks only the second meeting between these two teams, as Florida claimed a 66-45 victory over the Blue Raiders last season in Tampa.
With 19 points and 12 rebounds, Shawn Jones logged his second straight double- double in leading the Blue Raiders to their 17-point win over visiting UALR on Monday night. Jones got help from Kerry Hammonds who scored 20 points, Reggie Upshaw with 13 and Tweety Knight who chipped in 11 points while handing out eight assists. Middle Tennessee shot 47.1 percent from the field, while at the same time not allowing the Trojans a single 3-pointer in 11 attempts. MT did however, send UALR to the foul line 42 times, as it was outscored there 31-21.
Jones (16.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg) does it all for the Blue Raiders, and he is shooting a stellar 61.5 percent from the floor. Hammonds (16.3 ppg) and Knight (10.0 ppg, 5.8 apg) have also been highly productive in helping the team put up 77.8 ppg behind a 48.2 percent shooting effort that has seen it drop 24-of-63 3- point attempts. MT goads the opposition into 15 turnovers per tilt, while also defending the perimeter well (.315).
One of Florida's four double-digit scorers went down with an injury in the recent win over Southern, as Kasey Hill (10.3 ppg, 4.3 apg) suffered an ankle injury and could be out for a month or more. That leaves guys like Casey Prather (19.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Michael Frazier (13.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg) who will assume Hill's spot in the starting lineup, and Dorian Finney-Smith (12.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg) as the ones left to carry the mantle for a team that averages 70.8 ppg while permitting only 59.2 ppg.
The Gators shot just 40 percent from the field in the win over Southern, but held the Jaguars around the same (.391) while taking 14 more shots. Patric Young was high man for UF, netting 12 points and grabbing six boards, while Prather and DeVon Walker each scored 10 points. Prather pulled down nine rebounds, helping the Gators to a 43-29 advantage on the glass. Southern missed 13 of its 16 3-point tries, and shot only 29.2 percent from the floor in the opening half.