Minnesota (21-14) at Middle Tennessee (27-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, March 21, 7:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,520) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: ESPN2. NIT Record: Minnesota 20-11, Middle Tennessee 4-2. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: The 2012 National Invitation Tournament continues this evening in Murfreesboro, as the fourth-seeded Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders play host to the sixth-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers in the quarterfinals. The winner advances to next week's semifinal round in New York City to take on Washington.
Minnesota has won its first two NIT games on the road, first against La Salle in the opening round and then at Miami-Florida in the second round, 78-60. The Golden Gophers have now won 20 or more games in four of the past five seasons, and Tubby Smith has eclipsed the 100-win plateau during his tenure at the school.
Middle Tennessee went on a 15-0 run in the final minutes of its second-round matchup against top-seeded Tennessee to come back and claim a 71-64 victory, and in the process became the first Sun Belt Conference team to advance to the NIT quarterfinals since UAB back in 1989. The win moved the Blue Raiders to 27-6 on the year, improving what was already the best record in school history.
These two teams have split the all-time series, 1-1, with Minnesota winning the most recent encounter, 88-65, on Dec. 12, 1992.
Minnesota opened up its recent clash with Miami by going on a 12-0 run, and never looked back as it cruised to the 18-point win. The Golden Gophers held the Hurricanes to 34.4 percent field goal efficiency, which included a dreadful 4-of-25 effort from three-point range, while they themselves connected on a lofty 58.3 percent of their total shots. Rodney Williams led all scorers with 21 points, while Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman tallied 14 apiece. On the season, the Golden Gophers have had a tough time breaking free from the middle of the pack in a loaded Big Ten Conference, ranking seventh in scoring offense (67.8 ppg) and sixth in scoring defense (64.2 ppg), although they have been impressive on the glass (+4.3 rebounding margin) while leading the league in blocked shots (4.9 bpg). Williams has been effective across the stat sheet, averaging 11.7 ppg (.567 FG percentage), 5.6 rpg, 1.4 spg and 1.4 bpg, all tops on the team. Julian Welch adds 10.2 ppg and a team-best 2.9 apg to the mix.
Middle Tennessee was able to knock off its Volunteer State rival for the first time since 1988 in Monday's come-from-behind win by shooting 46.2 percent from the floor and 20-of-28 from the free-throw line. Bruce Massey led the charge with his first-ever double-double, putting up career-highs of 20 points and 10 rebounds, and LaRon Dendy chipped in with 10 points and nine rebounds. The Blue Raiders were a powerhouse in their conference this season, ranking first in scoring offense (72.3 ppg), scoring margin (+10.2 ppg), field goal percentage (.496), field goal percentage defense (.394) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.314). The catalyst at both ends of the court has been Dendy, who took home Sun Belt Player of the Year honors after leading the team in scoring (14.7 ppg), rebounding (7.2 rpg) and blocks (1.5 bpg). Marcos Knight (11.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.8 apg) and JT Sulton (10.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) have been consistent contributors as well.
Minnesota has impressed so far in this tournament, despite being on the road each time out, but it now heads to the Murphy Center where Middle Tennessee has lost just once in 16 tries this season. The Blue Raiders will use that home court advantage and another well-rounded attack to earn their trip to the Big Apple.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 72, Minnesota 65
03/21 10:33:29 ET