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Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball news and notes

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From the Sun Belt Conference

Around the Sun Belt Conference

Two old rivals have impressed during the first month of the season as Middle Tennessee and WKU hold the best overall records in the Sun Belt Conference.

 

Kerry Hammonds' jumper with 40 seconds remaining proved to be the difference for MT in defeating Ole Miss, 65-62, this past weekend. The win was MT's fifth in the last six games and fourth in a row against Ole Miss. The Blue Raiders handed the Rebels their first loss of the season while MT remained undefeated on its home court this year at 4-0. Marcos Knight led the Blue Raiders with 14 points, his eighth straight game in double-figures. Raymond Cintron added 10 points, making 3-of-4 three-pointers.

 

With the win over Ole Miss on Dec. 8, MT has now beaten an SEC opponent in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history. The Blue Raiders defeated both Tennessee and Ole Miss last season. It also marked the first win over an SEC opponent in Murphy Center since a 93-90 overtime victory against Vanderbilt on Feb. 1, 1995. MT is now 1-1 against the SEC this year (Lost to No. 10 Florida on Nov. 18) and has won three of the last five meetings against SEC opponents.

 

The Hilltoppers returned to E.A. Diddle Arena last week and earned two wins, defeating Southern Illinois on Wednesday, 58-57, and knocking off IUPUI on Saturday, 77-57. WKU has now won six-straight games, 15 of 18 overall and 10-straight at home, and the Hilltoppers are off to their best start to a season at 8-2 since the 2006-07 squad also started 8-2.

 

Jamal Crook averaged 17.5 points and 6.0 assists per game last week, and T.J. Price scored 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting against Southern Illinois. George Fant added 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Hilltoppers, who now face a challenging stretch of three games in a week at Murray State, at VCU and against Louisville in Nashville. Those three teams went a combined 90-19 last season and each won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Elsewhere around the Sun Belt, Florida Atlantic has won its last three games and four of their last five. Gregg Gant has been a scoring force for the Owls and is now 84 points shy of becoming the school's all-time leading scorer.

 

Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball Player of the Week – As selected by the Sun Belt member institutions

 

Greg Gantt (Florida Atlantic, Sr., G)

Greg Gantt had another outstanding week for the Owls. In FAU's 88-78 win over Stetson, Gantt scored a career high 34 points, his fourth straight game with at least 23 points. He also had seven rebounds in the game. On Sunday, Gantt had 19 points in an 83-50 win over Warner, along with five rebounds. For the week, he averaged 26.5 points and six rebounds, shooting 43.2 percent from the floor, including 53.3 percent from the three-point line.

 

Upcoming Games

 

12/11/2012

Lamar at UL-Lafayette - 7:00 PM

 

12/13/2012

Troy at Alabama State - 2:00 PM

Middle Tennessee at Belmont - 6:00 PM

Southern at UL-Monroe - 7:00 PM

FIU at Florida Gulf Coast - 7:05 PM

 

12/15/2012

Tulsa at UALR - 2:00 PM

Florida Atlantic at Dayton - 6:00 PM (WHIO)

Georgia State at Troy - 7:00 PM

UL-Lafayette at Houston - 7:00 PM

 

12/16/2012

Southeastern La. at North Texas - 1:00 PM

WKU at Murray State - 2:00 PM (HSSN/ESPN3)

Austin Peay at Arkansas State - 2:05 PM

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at South Alabama - 4:05 PM

 

12/17/2012

UL-Monroe at Florida St. - 6:00 PM (ESPN3)

Louisiana Tech at UALR - 7:00 PM

 

Recent Results

 

12/5/2012

Middle Tennessee 84, UAB 64 (ESPN3)

WKU 58, Southern Illinois 57 (HSSN/ESPN3)

St. Louis 67, North Texas 63 (Fox Sports Ohio)

 

12/6/2012

#11 Cincinnati 87, UALR 53 (Fox Sports Ohio)

Florida Atlantic 88, Stetson 78

 

12/8/2012

Arkansas State 73, St. Bonaventure 70

WKU 77, IUPUI 57 (HSSN/ESPN3)

Middle Tennessee 65, Ole Miss 62 (ESPN3)

Utah Valley State 86, Troy 82 (2OT)

North Texas 83, Jackson State 65

McNeese State 77, Louisiana-Lafayette 72

UAB 92, South Alabama 78

 

12/9/2012

FIU 82, Stetson 79

Florida Atlantic 83, Warner Southern 50

 

12/10/2012

Louisiana-Monroe 68, SE Louisiana 61 (OT)

 

Team News and Notes

 

UALR Trojans

UALR sits at 7-4 overall and remains 2-0 in Sun Belt play after going 1-1 in the most recent reporting week … The Trojans began the week by beating St. Gregory's Tuesday night at the Jack Stephens Center by a 91-30 final score before falling at No. 11 Cincinnati on Thursday, 87-53 … UALR set new season highs for points (91), made field goals (33), field goal percentage (55.0, 33-60), assists (19) and steals (13) against St. Gregory's … UALR had four players finish the game in double figures for the fourth time this season … Freshman John Gillon led UALR with 17, followed by career-best efforts from freshmen Kemy Osser (16) and Stetson Billings (13), while sophomore Michael Javes finished with 11 … UALR is 4-0 on the season in games when at least four of their players finish in double figures … UALR's bench outscored SGU's reserves 47-to-15, and the Trojans were able to score 35 points off 24 Cavalier turnovers … The Trojans improved to 6-0 at home on the season with the win over the Cavaliers … Conversely, UALR is still searching for its first true road win of the season after falling at No. 11 Cincinnati on Thursday … The Bearcats' 34 made field goals on 71 attempts were both single-game highs for a UALR opponent this season … UC forced the Trojans into a season-high 32 turnovers and set a new school record with 23 steals in the game … Junior Will Neighbour, freshman James White and sophomore Ben Dillard paced the Trojans with 10 points apiece, while four Bearcats finished the night in double figures … Cincinnati outrebounded the Trojans 39-to-32 and racked up 20 assists on its 34 made field goals … The Bearcats shot 47.9 percent (34-of-71) from the field in the contest … UC held advantages in points in the paint (42-to-20), points off turnovers (31-to-8), second-chance points (11-to-4), fast-break points (21-to-14), and bench scoring (31-to-22) … The Trojans currently rank third in the Sun Belt in scoring defense (62.7 ppg) and eighth in the league in scoring offense (67.4) … UALR's 42.8 field goal percentage is fourth-best in the conference, while it's 40.1 percent field goal defense ranks third … UALR returns to action with a non-conference home game this Saturday against Tulsa, who is 6-3 on the season after Saturday's win over TCU … The Trojans will then get a rematch against Louisiana Tech on Monday at the Jack Stephens Center … The Bulldogs beat UALR 70-52 on Nov. 14 in Ruston, La., and currently sit at 8-2 overall.

 

Arkansas State Red Wolves

Arkansas State is currently 5-1 in non-conference games this season and is midst a five-game winning streak in non-league matchups. The Red Wolves, who are averaging 75.5 points per game (453 total) to the opposition's 64.8 points an outing (389 total), are shooting 44.5% (161-362) from the floor. ASU's top two points leaders in non-conference games this season – junior guard Ed Townsel (16.3 ppg.) and senior forward Brandon Peterson (12.5 ppg.) have combined to account for 38.2 percent (173-453) of the team's scoring production. Townsel has accumulated a team-leading 98 points in six non-league games and Peterson has posted 75 points in six encounters.

 

Sophomore guard Rakeem Dickerson's 12 points against St. Bonaventure Saturday (12/8) tied a personal career game high, equaling his 12 points versus ULM last season (2/2/12). Dickerson's 12 points versus the Bonnies snapped a 17-game non double-digit scoring streak which dates back to his lone double-figure points effort of a season ago.

 

Brandon Peterson extended his double-figure scoring string to seven with a game-high tying 18 points against St. Bonaventure (12/8). His season game-best 18 points versus the Bonnies were three point shy of tying his career high 21 points at Lamar (1/4/10). Peterson is averaging a combined 12.4 points an outing (87 total) in those seven double-digit scoring contests.

 

Florida Atlantic Owls

The Owls have won their last three games and four of their last five, including a 83-50 win over Warner on Sunday. Greg Gantt had a string of four straight games of at least 20 points snapped by scoring just 19 on Sunday. He is now 84 points shy of becoming the school's all-time leading scorer. Dragan Sekelja had a game high 11 rebounds in the Owls' win over Warner. The win was the fourth in a row in the series for the Owls. FAU will travel to Dayton for a game on Saturday, it will be the first ever meeting between the two schools. Mike Jarvis coached against the Flyers when he was the head coach at George Washington.

 

FIU Panthers

The FIU men's basketball team (3-3) is coming off an 82-79 win at Stetson on Dec. 9, 2012, in Deland, Fla., thanks in part to the efforts of junior Malik Smith, who posted a career-high 29 points off of the bench.

 

The push improved FIU's record to .500 and extended the team's winning streak over the Hatters to five games. FIU drained a season-high 10 treys versus Stetson, shooting 40.0 percent from 3-point range. Five Panthers, including Smith, scored in double figures on Sunday.

 

On the year, FIU is averaging 74.5 points-per-game (No. 1 in the conference and No. 54 nationally) while shooting 44.5 percent (153-of-344) from the floor (No. 2 in the conference). The Panthers are also shooting well from the charity stripe, converting 73.3 percent (96-of-131) of their attempts from the free-throw line (No. 3 in the conference). After notching 11 steals versus the Hatters on Sunday, FIU leads the conference in steals-per-contest (9.5).

 

Leading the Panthers in scoring is Smith, who comes into Thursday's game averaging 17.3 points-per-game (No. 3 in the conference). The Boston, Mass., native has scored in double-figures in each of the team's first six games. Smith leads the conference in 3-point field goals made, averaging 3.8 treys-per-game. Junior Tymell Murphy scored 11 points in move his season averaging to 13.8 points-per-game (No. 11 in the conference). Murphy, who ranks No. 2 in the conference and No. 14 nationally in field goal percentage, shooting 61.4 percent from the floor. Freshman Jerome Frink notched a game-high three steals versus Stetson to increase his team-leading total to 14 (No. 2 in the conference and No. 47 nationally). The Jersey City, N.J., native comes into this week's action averaging 10.2 points-per-game and 6.2 rebounds-per-contest (No. 13 in the conference).

 

The Panthers travel to Ft. Myers, Fla., to take on the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles on Thursday, Dec. 13. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m. ET and will be the second game of current six-game road swing for FIU.

 

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

The Cajuns saw their record drop to 3-6 on the year when they couldn't hold an 11-point first half lead, falling at McNeese State, 77-72. The game was the first of five contests, three of which will be played at home, that lead up to the holiday break and mark the end of the non-conference schedule.

 

Third year head coach Bob Marlin signed a new five-year contract that will keep him on the Cajuns' sidelines through the 2016-17 season. In his first two seasons, Marlin's teams have won 21 Sun Belt games, the second-highest total in the league over that span, and his .656 winning percentage in league games is the highest among active Sun Belt coaches.

 

Freshman forward Shawn Long continued his remarkable play at McNeese, scoring 17 points with a career-high 17 rebounds for his fourth double-double in nine games this season. He leads the league in defensive rebounding (6.4), is third in scoring (16.9), rebounding (9.0) and blocked shots (2.0) and is ninth in free throw percentage (.821).

 

Sophomore guard Elfrid Payton continues to flirt with a triple-double, registering 17 points with a career-high 10 rebounds and seven assists against McNeese State. Payton continues to lead the Sun Belt in both assists (5.6) and steals (2.7).

 

Louisiana is shooting .709 from the line as a team this year, the highest percentage since the 1993-94 season. It has been even better late in games as the Cajuns have gone 47-for-61 (.770) from the line in the final 5:00 minutes and overtime. Shawn Long (8-8) and Steven Wronkoski (6-6) lead the team while Bryant Mbamalu, a career .743 shooter (26-35), is seven-for-eight this year (.875). That is a considerable improvement from the .617 (121-196) that the Cajuns shot during the 2011-12 season.

 

The Cajuns received some bad news over the weekend when sophomore guard Kevin Brown left early in the North Texas game with a foot injury. Subsequent x-rays revealed a broken right foot, sidelining him indefinitely. In the first seven games, Brown came off the bench to average 5.4 points and 1.8 rebounds a game, shooting .421 from three-point (8-19).

 

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

ULM (1-4) earned its first victory of the season with a hard-fought 68-61 overtime win against Southeastern Louisiana on Monday evening in Fant-Ewing Coliseum … The win snapped a 20-game home losing streak, dating back to Jan. 4, 2011 … The Warhawks shot a season-high 54.2 percent in the second half to rally from a nine-point halftime deficit … Junior guard R.J. McCray finished with a career-high 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting to lead the Warhawks, while junior forward Jayon James came up just shy of a triple-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists … James had eight points and a pair of assists during a 15-2 ULM run midway through the second half to propel the Warhawks into the lead … Junior guard Marcelis Hansberry came of the bench to score 16 points, including a 9-of-11 performance from the free-throw line … ULM is back in action Thursday when it hosts Southern at 7 p.m. inside Fant-Ewing Coliseum.

 

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Kerry Hammonds' jumper with 40 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders defeated the Ole Miss Rebels, 65-62, at Murphy Center. The win was MT's fifth in the last six games and fourth in a row against Ole Miss. The Blue Raiders handed the Rebels their first loss of the season while MT remained undefeated on its home court this year at 4-0. Marcos Knight led the Blue Raiders with 14 points, his eighth straight game in double-figures. Raymond Cintron added 10 points, making 3-of-4 three-pointers.

 

MT has continued to defend its home court this season after finishing 15-2 in Murphy Center last year. The Blue Raiders are 4-0 at home this year and haven't lost a regular-season game in Murphy Center since Nov. 20, 2011 when MT dropped an 87-84 double overtime decision to Belmont. That's 17 straight regular-season home victories for the Blue Raiders. MT is now 19-2 over the last two seasons in Murphy Center.

 

With 10 of the top 12 scorers returning from last season's team, it's no surprise that MT has a deep bench. The Blue Raider bench currently owns a 304-130 advantage over its opponents.

 

The Blue Raiders have out-rebounded their opponent in seven of nine contests this season. MT currently owns a 330-283 rebounding advantage, an average of 36.7 compared to 31.4.

 

With the win over Ole Miss on Dec. 8, MT has now beaten an SEC opponent in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history. The Blue Raiders defeated both Tennessee and Ole Miss last season. It also marked the first win over an SEC opponent in Murphy Center since a 93-90 overtime victory against Vanderbilt on Feb. 1, 1995. MT is now 1-1 against the SEC this year (Lost to No. 10 Florida on Nov. 18) and has won three of the last five meetings against SEC opponents.

 

Shawn Jones raked in the Sun Belt and Tennessee Sports Writers Association Player of the Week awards on Nov. 27 after posting a pair of double-doubles against UCF and Texas Southern. He tallied 18 points and 13 rebounds, both career-highs, in a 75-61 win over UCF. The Hialeah, Fla., native followed that up by setting a new career-high with 21 points and also grabbed 12 boards in a 79-52 victory over Texas Southern. For the week, Jones averaged 19.5 points and 12.5 rebounds while shooting 66.7 percent from the field. He is the only Blue Raider to start every game this season.

 

MT has picked up where it left off last season after setting the school record with 11 road wins. The Blue Raiders are off to a 3-2 start on the road this year, including one victory in Sun Belt play. MT has won 47 league road games under the direction of Kermit Davis, the most among any conference school.

 

North Texas Mean Green

North Texas committed only five turnovers against Jackson State. In the last 20 years, the Mean Green has posted only two games with fewer than five turnovers. This season, NT has had 15 or fewer turnovers in eight of the 10 games so far, and ranks second in the Sun Belt and 89th in the country with 12.8 turnovers per game.

 

Alzee Williams' efficiency streak is starting to reach epic proportions. The junior leads NT with 32.5 minutes per game, but has only six turnovers on the year. Alzee is averaging one turnover every 54.2 minutes of action, which is the best mark in the Sun Belt of players averaging at least 30 minutes per game.

 

Tony Mitchell's monstrous first-half dunk over Jackson State's Willie Readus was posted immediately to YouTube by Jordan Foreman and the North Texas video team, and got nearly 13,000 views in less than two days. ESPN's Sports Nation caught wind of the viral dunk and has asked to use the clip during their show this week. Fans can see the clip on the official North Texas YouTube page YouTube.com/MeanGreenSports.

 

The Mean Green offense has been on a tear over the last three games, and Chris Jones is the catalyst. NT is averaging 74.0 points on 45.5 percent shooting over the last three contests, including a season-high 83 points against Jackson State on Saturday. Jones is averaging 18.3 points on 48.6 percent shooting to go with 14 assists and seven steals in this stretch. Tony Mitchell is shooting a team-high 63.6 percent in the last three games.

 

Tony Benford has preached the effectiveness of paint touches, and they seem to have a direct correlation to NT's wins and losses so far this year. In its wins, NT is averaging 40.0 points in the paint. That number dips to 26.3 points in the paint in its losses. NT posted a season-high tying 44 points in the paint against Jackson State.

 

South Alabama Jaguars

Saturday will be the second meeting between South Alabama and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. TAMUCC's program was started in 1999 by current USA head coach Ronnie Arrow. Arrow led the Islanders to a 134-91 record and a trip to the NCAA Tournament over eight seasons.

 

The Jags have gotten off to slow starts in the last two games, averaging 26 points in the first half to trail by an average of 12.5 points at halftime. The team is shooting just 30.3 percent (20-66) from the floor and 5.3 percent (1-19) from 3-point land in their last two opening halves. The second half has been a different story as South Alabama averages 39 points after halftime, shooting 44.8 percent from the field, 44.0 percent from distance while converting 5.5 treys.

 

USA nearly doubled its offensive output in the second half vs. UAB, pouring in a season-best 51 points and shooting 54.8 percent from the floor after the break. Three different players reached double-digit points in the second half.

 

South Alabama hit seven 3-pointers at UAB, tying the most by the team in a loss this season but converted a season-low 25.9 percent. The Jaguars average 5.8 treys and shoot 29.6 percent from distance in their five losses but average 8.8 triples at 46.1 percent in four wins.

 

The Jags came into the season with a 61-14 record since 2007-08 when scoring 70 or more but is 4-3 this year when going for 70 or more.

 

Augustine Rubit recorded his fourth double-double of the season vs. UAB with a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds. He totaled 16 points after halftime and went 8-for-9 from the free throw line for the contest to give him 20 or more points for the fifth time in 2012-13. Rubit is second in the Sun Belt scoring (18.4) in free throw percentage (87.3%).

 

Rubit moved closer to the 1,000-point mark for a career and now needs 26 points to reach the plateau. He surpassed Richard Law for 15th on the school's career scoring list and trails Kent Carson by 14 points for 14th. He will become the 14th player at South Alabama to reach 1,000 points.

 

Rubit, already fifth at USA in career rebounds (660), recorded double-digits in the category for the fifth time in six games at UAB (he had nine at FIU on Dec. 1), and remains second in the conference in rebounds per game (9.3).

 

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will have 15 days between games and has lost five straight since a season-opening win vs. Texas Lutheran. Four of those five losses came on the road, including an 88-59 defeat at Iowa its last time out.

 

Troy Trojans

Troy played just one game last week, falling in a double-overtime thriller to Utah Valley. Ray Chambers scored a career-high 17 points on the day to go with eight boards. All five starters scored in double-figures, something that no Trojan team had done since the 2009-10 season. The Trojans also grabbed 48 rebounds, the most since tearing down 68 against LaGrange last year.

 

Troy led by two with 3.7 seconds remaining, but Utah Valley had the ball. UVU's Holton Hunsaker fired up a desperation 3-pointer for the win in the final second. His shot failed to connect with anything, but fell straight into the hands of Alfonzo Hubbard, who tipped it in to tie the game. The two teams battled to another stalemate in the first overtime, before the Wolverines took control in the second extra frame.

The Trojans will face Alabama State and Georgia State this week. Troy has already defeated Alabama State, winning 66-62 at home earlier in the season. The Trojans have never defeated Georgia State, in three tries.

 

WKU Hilltoppers

The Hilltoppers returned to E.A. Diddle Arena last week and earned two wins, defeating Southern Illinois on Wednesday, 58-57, and knocking off IUPUI on Saturday, 77-57. WKU has now won six-straight games, 15 of 18 overall and 10-straight at home, and the Hilltoppers are off to their best start to a season at 8-2 since the 2006-07 squad also started 8-2.

 

Jamal Crook averaged 17.5 points and 6.0 assists per game last week, and T.J. Price scored 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting against Southern Illinois. George Fant added 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Hilltoppers, who now face a challenging stretch of three games in a week at Murray State, at VCU and against Louisville in Nashville. Those three teams went a combined 90-19 last season and each won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament.

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