The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 23, 6:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,520) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: ULM 3-7, MT 15-0. Away Record: ULM 1-12, MT 9-3. Neutral Record: ULM 0-0, MT 0-1. Conference Record: ULM 3-14, MT 16-1. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 8-6.
GAME NOTES: The Sun Belt Conference's best and worst are set for a Saturday night matchup, as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders play host to the ULM Warhawks at the Murphy Center.
ULM suffered a 75-57 loss at Western Kentucky on Thursday night for its second straight loss and its 11th in the last 12 games. The Warhawks are just 4-19 on the season and sit all alone in last place with a 3-14 league mark.
Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee has not only been the front runners in the Sun Belt from the start this season, but it is one of the top mid-major programs in the nation, as it sits with a record of 24-4 overall and 16-1 in conference following a 13-game winning streak. The Blue Raiders made easy work of South Alabama on Thursday, 85-50, to continue their perfect run at home (15-0). They also clinched the SBC regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.
Middle Tennessee handled ULM in Monroe on Jan. 12, 66-57, to extend its lead in the all-time series to 8-6.
The Warhawks shot only 36.4 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from the foul line in their 18-point loss to Western Kentucky earlier in the week in a game they never led. As he has all season, Amos Olatayo paced the squad in scoring with 18 points, but he did so on just 6-of-17 from the field. Trent Mackey added 13 points, Jayon James had 11, and Millaun Brown only converted one field goal on the night but he made his presence felt on the glass with 12 rebounds. Unsurprisingly, ULM is bringing up the rear in several categories in the Sun Belt rankings, including scoring offense (60.6 ppg), scoring margin (-11.6), free throw percentage (.575), field goal percentage defense (.463) and rebounding margin (-5.9). Olatayo shoots upwards of 47 percent from the field for 16.2 ppg while adding 5.7 rpg. Mackey chimes in with 11.0 ppg on an impressive 43.7 percent from 3-point range, and while James stuffs the stat sheet with 10.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.2 apg and 1.2 spg, he's also plagued by five turnovers per contest.
Middle Tennessee took a 13-0 lead less than five minutes into its latest game and it cruised from there on its way to the commanding 35-point win over South Alabama. It outshot the Jaguars from the field, 46.3 percent to 28.6 percent, and it had five players score in double figures, paced by 12 points from Bruce Massey. Marcos Knight and Neiko Hunter netted 11 points apiece, while Kerry Hammonds and Shawn Jones (seven rebounds, six blocks) poured in 10 points each. The Blue Raiders have grown accustomed to dominating performances this season, as they rank first in the Sun Belt in several categories, the most important being scoring offense (71.1 ppg) and scoring defense (57.7 ppg). They benefit from having an incredibly deep bench, as seven players score at least 6.0 ppg and 11 put up 2.2 ppg or more. Marcos Knight (12.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is the lone player to score in double-digits on a nightly basis, but Raymond Cintron (9.1 ppg), Jones (8.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.2 bpg) and Hunter (8.0 ppg) are also consistent options.
Middle Tennessee won the Sun Belt regular-season title a season ago only to fail to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by losing in the conference tournament, so don't expect it to let off the gas pedal down the stretch. At home against the worst team in the league, the Blue Raiders could put this one out of reach before halftime.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 80, ULM 57
02/23 10:43:50 ET