Western Kentucky (8-15) at Middle Tennessee (21-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, February 9th, 8:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,802) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Western Kentucky 5-7, Middle Tennessee 11-1. Away Record: Western Kentucky 3-5, Middle Tennessee 9-3. Neutral Record: Western Kentucky 0-3, Middle Tennessee 1-0. Conference Record: Western Kentucky 4-6, Middle Tennessee 10-1. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 91-34.
GAMES NOTES: Middle Tennessee will try to rebound from its first loss in conference play when Western Kentucky comes to the Murphy Center for a Sun Belt Conference clash.
Western Kentucky holds the edge in this series having won 91 of 125 previous meetings. However in recent years it has been Middle Tennessee that has dominated the matchup with wins in each of the last four meetings.
The Hilltoppers have begun to find their groove with wins in back-to-back games along with three of the last four. Western Kentucky has now climbed to third in the Sun Belt East Division. A road matchup with Troy awaits the Hilltoppers in their next time outing.
Middle Tennessee took its first loss in conference play by dropping a 75-60 decision on the road against Denver. It is the team's second loss in three games with the other defeat coming against Vanderbilt. Before the recent struggles the Blue Raiders were dominating, winning 12 straight, including nine in conference play. Middle Tennessee is still leading the Sun Belt East Division and the conference overall with a 10-1 record. This is the first of a three-game homestand that will continue against Arkansas-Little Rock.
In a matchup with South Alabama on Saturday Western Kentucky wound up on the winning side taking a 75-66 decision. The Hilltoppers shot extremely well especially in the second half on their way to the win connecting on 54.7 percent of its shots from the floor including 6-of-14 from the three point line. Jamal Crook led the Hilltoppers with a season-high 24 points.
Western Kentucky is not an overly successful offensive team putting in only 63.2 points per game and shooting a conference worst 38.6 percent from the floor. Crook's performance boosts his scoring average to 9.2 points per game which is second on the team. Crook is also the most efficient on the poor shooting offensive squad netting a team high 48.0 percent of its shots from the field. Crook has scored in double figures in three of the last four games but is still trailing freshman guard Derrick Gordon in scoring. Gordon puts in 11.7 points per game but has seen his numbers dip recently including tying a season low with four points against South Alabama. Gordon shot just 2-for-10 in the game but did manage to pull in six rebounds adding to his team lead on the boards which now stands at 6.2 rebounds per game. Forward George Fant, another freshman, (9.0 ppg. 6.1 rpg) is the third option for the Hilltoppers.
Middle Tennessee allowed Denver to shoot 50.0 percent from the floor in taking a 75-60 loss. The Blue Raiders were able to put in 46.5 percent of their shots from the floor, but turned the ball over 17 times in the defeat. The Blue Raiders were in it until the Pioneers ripped off a 10-1 run in the last few minutes to put the game out of reach.
The performance against Denver was a lapse for the otherwise potent Middle Tennessee offense that scores 71.8 points per game and shoots 49.4 percent from the floor. Both marks are at the top of the Sun Belt and the team's shooting percentage is also eighth nationally. Middle Tennessee can also play defense, allowing just 61.1 points per game for an impressive +10.7 scoring differential. Senior forward LaRon Dendy is the lead scorer for the Blue Raiders netting 13.9 points per game while also pulling down a team leading 6.7 rebounds per contest. Dendy has scored in double figures in five straight games after putting in 15 against Denver. Junior guard Marcos Knight (12.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.0 apg) flanks Dendy on the wings. J.T. Sulton (11.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is the third option but has been inconsistent in recent weeks, scoring less than 10 points twice in the last four games.
Middle Tennessee has been dominant in the Sun Belt this season and the loss to Denver should just be a blip on the radar. The Blue Raiders will get back on track in this one against a Western Kentucky team that won't be able to keep up with the torrid pace.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 75, Western Kentucky 61
02/09 10:40:21 ET