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Coming off its second consecutive unbeaten weekend, Arkansas State has claimed the top spot in the Sun Belt Conference West Division standings and has won four in a row.
The Red Wolves (10-5, 4-2 SBC) first survived a 66-60 overtime thriller against Middle Tennessee (12-4, 4-1 SBC) on Thursday and then knocked off WKU (10-7, 4-2 SBC) 75-61 on Saturday. ASU improved to 7-1 at the Convocation Center this season and five of the seven wins have been decided by 10 points or more.
Senior forward Brandon Peterson has played a big role for the Red Wolves in the winning streak as he has poured in at least 14 points in all of the last three contests. He also ranks second in the SBC grabbing 9.7 rebounds per game.
Junior Ed Townsel leads the team and ranks third in the SBC averaging 16.3 points per game.
ASU will play its third consecutive home game on Thursday against FIU (6-7, 2-3 SBC) at 7:05 p.m. before hitting the road on Saturday for a 7:15 p.m. tipoff at Louisiana-Lafayette (6-11, 2-4 SBC).
MT stands atop the SBC East Division standings and has won five of its last six games. The Blue Raiders are coming off a 60-56 victory over South Alabama (7-7, 4-2 SBC) on Thursday after a late second-half surge.
In the six games, senior guard Marco Knight has averaged 12.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists to propel the team. He collected at least five rebounds in every contest. Knight registered a career-high 23 points in the lone SBC loss at ASU and came one rebound shy of a double-double.
The Blue Raiders will look to stay hot on Thursday when they host Florida Atlantic (8-8, 3-2) for a 7 p.m. start. MT will close out the weekend at Louisiana-Monroe (3-8, 2-3 SBC) at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The Owls have won their last two games to reach .500 on the season and are coming off a 75-70 win over the Ragin' Cajuns on Thursday.
Senior guard Greg Gantt earned national attention when he posted 25 points in a nationally televised game against No. 6 Indiana. In his next game, Gantt became FAU's all-time leading scorer in a 61-54 win over Troy as he finished the game with 26 points and eight rebounds. Gantt currently leads the league and ranks fifth in the country in scoring with 22.4 points per game. He also ranks first in free throw percentage at .852 and minutes played with 35.8 per game.
On the season, Gantt has recorded 15 double-digit scoring games and 11 20-plus scoring affairs. He has notched at least 23 points in all of the last five games and shot at a .452 mark during that span. Gantt averages 3.0 three-pointers per game which is good for second in the SBC and shoots at a .429 clip from beyond-the-arc.
Gantt and the Owls will look to keep it going on the road this weekend as they square off against MT on Thursday and WKU on Saturday.
Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball Player of the Week – As selected by the Sun Belt member institutions
Augustine Rubit (South Alabama, Jr., F)
Augustine Rubit has averaged 20.3 points and 13.5 rebounds over his last four games, while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor… Rubit recorded a double-double in all four games—extending his streak to a personal-best six—pouring in 19 or more points and grabbing 13 or rebounds three times each… He set a new career high with 32 points at ULM on 11 of 12 shooting from the floor and 10 of 12 from the free throw line… He had 20 points in the second half alone, converting all six attempts from the field… He also tied personal highs in free throws made and attempted… The career night marked the fifth straight game he led the team in scoring… Rubit pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds vs. Middle Tennessee and tied his personal best with three assists… He posted game-high totals in points (20) and rebounds (17) against Arkansas State and added two blocks and steals apiece… The 17 rebounds are tied for the fifth most in his career… Rubit also blocked two shots against UALR while leading all players with 19 points and 10 rebounds… He currently leads the Sun Belt in rebounding (11.2) and is second in scoring (19.3).
Bethune-Cookman at FIU - 12:00 PM
* UL-Monroe at Troy - 6:00 PM (Sun Belt Network)
* FAU at Middle Tennessee - 7:00 PM
* South Alabama at UL-Lafayette - 7:00 PM
* North Texas at UALR - 7:00 PM
* FIU at Arkansas State - 7:05 PM
* FIU at UALR - 3:30 PM (Sun Belt Network)
* Middle Tennessee at UL-Monroe - 4:00 PM
* Florida Atlantic at WKU - 7:00 PM (HSSN/ESPN3)
* South Alabama at North Texas - 7:00 PM
* Arkansas State at UL-Lafayette - 7:15 PM
* Troy at Florida Atlantic - 6:00 PM
* North Texas at FIU - 6:30 PM
* UALR at Middle Tennessee - 7:00 PM (ESPN3)
* UL-Lafayette at WKU - 7:00 PM (HSSN/ESPN3)
* UL-Monroe at South Alabama - 7:05 PM
FIU 88, Florida A&M 72
* Florida Atlantic 75, Louisiana-Lafayette 70
* North Texas 76, Troy 59
* Arkansas State 66, Middle Tennessee 60 (OT)
* UALR 75, Western Kentucky 67 (HSSN/ESPN3)
* South Alabama 77, Louisiana-Monroe 72
* FIU 75, Louisiana-Lafayette 70
* Louisiana-Monroe 81, North Texas 68
* Arkansas State 75, Western Kentucky 61 (HSSN/ESPN3)
* Middle Tennessee 60, South Alabama 56
* Troy 67, UALR 64
Team News and Notes
UALR currently sits at 9-8 overall and 3-3 in Sun Belt play after going 1-3 against conference foes since Dec. 18 … UALR won its lone home game against WKU (Jan. 3), but dropped road matchups at South Alabama (Dec. 22), Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 29) and Troy (Jan. 5) … Most recently, UALR fell 67-64 at Troy in a game that saw them lead by as many as ten points at two different points in the second half … Freshman Kemy Osse put up a game-tying three-point attempt as time expired, but his shot was off the mark to drop UALR to 0-6 on the road this season … The game almost marked the first time this season that UALR failed to pull out the win when holding its opponent below 70 points … The Trojans are now 9-1 on the year when its opponent scores 69 points or less … As a team, UALR finished the night shooting 48.1 percent from the floor (25-of-52) and 52.3 percent from three-point range (8-of-15), but Troy outrebounded UALR 33-to-28 and held a 40-to-15 lead in bench scoring … The home team also knocked down 15-of-18 free throws, while UAL R struggled to a 6-of-14 effort from the foul line … The Trojans are now 8-1 at home this season, but are still searching for their first road win of the 2012-13 season … Currently, UALR sits alone in second place in the SBC's West Division at 3-3, trailing Arkansas State (4-2) by a game and sitting a half-game ahead of Louisiana-Lafayette (2-3) … Junior Will Neighbour leads UALR in scoring (11.4 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg) and ranks second on the team in steals (21) and third in blocked shots (17) … In SBC Games only, Neighbour's numbers jump to 12.7 ppg and 8.5 rpg … Neighbour is tied for the lead league with 21 offensive rebounds in conference games only … Over the last four games, freshman Josh Hagins is averaging 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 assists per game while shooting 44.8 percent from the field … Hagins has started the Trojans' last two games at point guard after coming off the bench for the previous 12 … As a team, UALR's scoring defense (65.9 ppg) ranks fourth in the Sun Belt, while its defensive field goal percentage (41.3 percent) ranks third and its defensive three-point field goal percentage (29.2 percent) ranks second … The Trojans 12.8 assists per game are second in the Sun Belt … This week, UALR returns to the Jack Stephens Center for a pair of home games against North Texas (Thursday, Jan. 10) and FIU (Saturday, Jan. 12).
Arkansas State Red Wolves
Junior guard Ed Townsel is averaging a team-best 18.5 points per game during the Red Wolves' current four-game winning streak. Townsel, who has accumulated a combined squad-most 74 points in the four outings, totaled a career single-game high 31 points against Louisiana-Lafayette (12/27) to surpass his 27 points set earlier this season (11/25) versus Lamar.
Senior guard Trey Finn is 38 points away from recording his 1,000th career point while senior forward Brandon Peterson needs 53 more points to reach the milestone. Finn has currently amassed 962 career points in 105 contests and Peterson has racked up 947 points in 111 career outings. Finn is also 51 points shy of tying Jabari Myles (1994-98; 1,013 career points) for 23rd place on ASU's all-time points leaders list.
Arkansas State currently sports a 7-1 home record this season as the Red Wolves are averaging 74.1 points per game (593 pts.) while holding their opponent to 59.9 points a contest (479 pts.) for a 14.3 points an outing differential. Five of ASU's eight home encounters to date have been decided by at least 10 points or more. Ed Townsel (18.1 ppg.), Brandon Peterson (12.1 ppg.), and Raeford Worsham (10.1 ppg.) have combined for 54.5% (323-593) of the team's scoring production at home this campaign.
ASU has held the opposition to 61.3 points a game (245 pts.) during its present four-game winning streak while tallying 72.8 points per contest (291). The Red Wolves have shot 42.8% (95-222) in those four encounters while their opponent has been limited to 36.6% (87-238) shooting from the floor.
The Red Wolves have compiled a 29-24 record (.547 win pct.) in January contests dating back to the 2006-07 season, which includes a 22-6 home ledger. ASU has posted a current 2-0 mark in January matchups this campaign after registering a 2-6 overall mark in such encounters a season ago, including 2-3 at home.
Brandon Peterson is 25 rebounds away from moving into a ninth-place tie with Mike Burk (1964-68; 775 career rebs.) for ninth place among ASU's all-time leaders. Peterson, who has hauled down a team-high 145 rebounds this season in 15 games, presently has amassed 730 career boards for a 6.6 average in 111 contests.
Florida Atlantic Owls
Greg Gantt became FAU's all-time leading scorer in the Owls' 61-54 win over Troy on Thursday. In FAU's next game, a 65-64 loss to ULM, he also became the school's all-time leader in total field goals made. Gantt has also a chance to become the school's all-time leaders in three-point field goals made and is just four points away from passing UNCC's Bryan Dinkins for 25th all time in SBC history in scoring. Classmate Jordan McCoy is already 3rd all-time in career offensive rebounds and 7th all-time in total rebounds. Sophomore Kelvin Penn is already 5th all time in career blocked shots. FAU beat Hofstra 61-57 on New Year's Day. It was just the second time in school history that the Owls played on January 1. FAU lost to South Alabama on January 1, 2009 in their only other contest on that date. The game against Hofstra also marked the end of FAU's nonconference schedule. All remaining regular season games for the Owls will be against Sun Belt Conference opponents.
Coming off back-to-back home victories, the FIU men's basketball team will host the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats on Monday, Jan. 7, at 1 p.m., before hitting the road to return to Sun Belt Conference action (Jan. 10 at Arkansas State and Jan .12 at UALR).
Following a month-long, six-game road swing, which the Panthers went 2-4, FIU returned home to record impressive wins over Florida A&M (88-72) and SBC foe Louisiana (75-70). Junior Tymell Murphy led FIU in both contests, posting back-to-back 20-point outings as well as back to back double-doubles. Versus the Rattlers, Murphy became just the second player in FIU history to record at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a singles game (Carlton Phoneix – 23 pts., 22 rebs. Vs. Northern Illinois on Feb. 23, 1987). He also became just the second player in the nation this season to accomplish this feat (Jerrelle Benimon of Towson). Three days later the native of Brooklyn, N.Y., scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed a game-high 15 boards as the Panthers snapped a three-game losing skid to the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns.
FIU comes into this week's action averaging 69.3 points-per-game (No. 4 in the conference) on 41.8 percent shooting from the floor (No. 7 in the conference). The Panthers are converting 33.6 percent of their shots from 3-point range (No. 6 in the conference) and 66.9 percent of their attempts from the free-throw line (No. 7 in the conference). FIU is allowing 72.0 points-per-game (No. 10 in the conference) as the opposition is shooting 45.4 percent from the floor. The Panthers are currently No. 2 in the conference in steals, averaging 9.2 steals-per-game.
The Panthers are led by Murphy, who comes into this week's action, averaging 15.0 points-per-game (No. 5 in the conference) and 7.7 rebounds-per-contest (No. 6 in the conference). Among the nation's leaders in shooting percentage, Murphy leads the SBC, draining 59.0 percent of his shots from the floor. Junior Malik Smith is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.7 points-per-game (No. 7 in the conference). Smith is No. 6 in the league in free-throw percentage (77.8) and leads the conference in 3-point field goals made (3.1). Freshman Jerome Frink comes into Monday's game averaging 10.0 points-per-game (No. 27 in the conference). The Jersey City, N.J., native has grabbed 10-or-more rebounds in three-straight games and ranks No. 8 in the conference, averaging 7.5 rebounds-per-game. Sophomore Deric Hill registered 10 steals this past week to move the Miami, Fla., native to No. 3 in the conference in steals-per-game (2.1). The 5-foot-9 point guard set a career-mark for steals with seven versus the Rattlers on Wednesday, Jan. 3.
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Sophomore guard Elfrid Payton, who continues to lead the Sun Belt in both assists (5.2) and steals (2.3), missed a triple-double by one rebound in the 75-70 loss at FIU on Saturday, scoring 13 points with a career-high 10 assists and a career-high matching nine rebounds. It was his third double-double of the year.
Bryant Mbamalu scored 17 points at FAU and 20 at FIU to continue his torrid scoring pace. The junior, who had scored 20 points or more in a game just twice in his first 43 games as a Cajun, has averaged 18.3 points with four 20-point efforts over his last six games. He has shot .656 from the field (41-64) and .533 from three-point (16-30) during that span.
After starting league play with four of the first six games on the road, the Cajuns will return home to play four of their next six games and eight of their next 12 contests. More importantly, the schedule includes just one two-game road swing and has a pair of one game weeks.
Forward Shawn Long continues to make his case for Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honors. He continues to lead Louisiana in both scoring (15.8), rebounding (9.2) and blocks (33), shooting .484 from the field (106-219) and .769 from the line (40-52). He has eight double-doubles and six 20-point games this year.
ULM (3-8, 2-3 SBC) is off to its best Sun Belt start since its inaugural season in 2006-07 following a convincing 81-68 victory at North Texas on Jan. 5. The Warhawks shot a season-best 58.3 percent (28-of-48) from the field and went 8 of 8 from the free-throw line down the stretch to seal the victory against the Mean Green. Junior forward Jayon James notched his fourth double-double of the season with 19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists against North Texas. James ranks fifth in the Sun Belt in rebounds per game (7.9), third in assists per game (4.7) and ninth in steals per game (1.5). Junior guard Amos Olatayo leads the Warhawks in scoring with 12.9 points per game. ULM has really heated up offensively over its last four games after a slow start to the season. The Warhawks are averaging 71.8 points and are shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from 3-point range while posting a 2-2 record in their last four games. ULM ranks second in the Sun Belt in 3-point percentage (.356) and third in assists per game (12.7) on the season. The Warhawks travel to Troy on Thursday at 6 p.m. before returning home to face Middle Tennessee on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
On Jan. 5, MT women's basketball head coach Rick Insell earned his 183rd win to become the program's all-time winningest coach. Insell joined MT men's basketball head coach Kermit Davis, who set the school record on Dec. 29, 2011, as an all-time wins leader. MT is just one of four schools (Gonzaga, Sacred Heart and UALR) to have both their current men's and women's basketball coaches as all-time wins leaders.
MT has continued to defend its home court this season after finishing 15-2 in Murphy Center last year. The Blue Raiders are 8-0 in home games, including a win at Bridgestone Arena, 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 20 straight regular-season victories in Murphy Center for the Blue Raiders. MT is now 22-2 over the last two seasons in Murphy Center.
MT is currently ranked 44th in the Sagarin Ratings and 44th according to the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings. The Blue Raiders are the highest ranked Sun Belt team in both ratings. The Blue Raiders are also ranked No. 4 in the Bleacher Report's Mid-Major Top 25 and 13th in CBS' Power Pyramid.
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 has outscored its opponent in all but one game this season, currently owning a 483-224 advantage.
MT held North Texas to 18.5 percent shooting in the first half of the Dec. 31 contest. That is the best field goal percentage defense for the Blue Raiders since Feb. 1, 2007 when MT held Denver to 18.2 percent (4-for-22) in the second half. MT also held North Texas to five field goals in the first half, a season-low for an opponent. It was the fewest field goals for an opponent in a half since Arkansas State had five on Jan. 19, 2012 in the second half.
With the win over Vanderbilt on Dec. 21, MT has now beaten two SEC opponents in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history. MT also beat Ole Miss on Dec. 8. The Blue Raiders defeated both Tennessee and Ole Miss last season.
The win over Ole Miss this year 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 2-1 against the SEC this year (Lost to No. 10 Florida on Nov. 18) and has won four of the last six meetings against SEC opponents.
With South Alabama's Ronnie Arrow retiring earlier this season, Kermit Davis is now the Sun Belt's winningest active coach. He is one of only four league coaches to crack the century mark and currently ranks fourth all-time with 102 league wins, behind Arrow (112), Gene Bartow (111), and Dickey Nutt (103).
North Texas Mean Green
Tony Mitchell, who posted 29 points and 15 rebounds against Troy on Jan. 3, has been unstoppable in 19 career games after the start of the new year. The sophomore, who is averaging 17.0 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game after the turn of the New Year, reach his career highs in points, rebounds, assists and blocks all came after the holidays.
Mitchell is just the second player in North Texas history to reach the century mark in blocks, and is now just eight blocks shy of the NT record. The sophomore has 111 career blocks (2.9 per game), and has his eyes set on Jeffrey Simpson's school record of 119 set from 2004-06.
Just 16 games into the season, NT's injuries have already accounted for 22 individual games missed in 2012-13. NT, which lost Brandan Walton for the year and Justin Patton for the first the season's first month, will be without the services of point guard Chris Jones indefinitely.
Jordan Williams, who has reached double-figures in each of his last five outings, has brought his game inside the 3-point line. Three-pointers accounted for 48.6 percent of Williams' shot attempts last season, but the sophomore has cut that to 34.7 percent this year. That's a telling stat considering that Williams is a career 50.0 percent (100-of-200) shooter inside the 3-point arch.
Alzee Williams is the nation's most efficient guard. The junior leads NT with 32.5 minutes per game, but has just 10 total turnovers on the year. That averages out to a turnover every 40.6 minutes - the third best ratio in the nation.
South Alabama Jaguars
South Alabama rebounded from committing a season-high-tying 25 turnovers at Louisiana at Monroe by committing just 11 Saturday vs. Middle Tennessee. The 11 miscues are the third-fewest by the Jaguars this season and the team posted a positive assist-to-turnover ratio for the fourth time in 2012-13 (12 assists).
USA shot a season-low 27.3 percent from the floor vs. Arkansas State, including 14.8 percent (4-27) from 3-point land, but shot a season-best 59.1 percent one game later vs. Louisiana at Monroe. The Jags converted 61.1 percent after halftime vs. ULM.
Thursday's game at Louisiana at Lafayette will match the Sun Belt's top two players in double-doubles. USA's Augustine Rubit, currently on a career-long streak of six, has nine on the season, one more than ULL's Shawn Long. Rubit extended his run with 10 points and 14 rebounds against Middle Tennessee and ranks eighth in Division I in double-doubles.
Rubit set a new career high in scoring against ULM with 32 points and he added 13 rebounds. He shot 11-for-12 from the floor and 10-for-12 from the free throw line, and had 20 points in the second half alone.
Rubit's scoring total of 10 was his lowest since putting up a season-low eight vs. New Mexico State on Dec. 4. With Mychal Ammons posting a game-high 15 points against MTSU, Rubit failed to lead the team in scoring for the first time in five games, but he still is second in the conference at 19.3 ppg. His eight field goal attempts were his fewest this season. He had scored 19 or more in his previous five games (23.6 ppg).
Rubit has reached double-digits in rebounds in seven straight games—10 times in his last 11—besting his previous long of five set in his freshman campaign. He has grabbed 13 or more boards in four of his last five outings and has led the team in rebounding in 11 consecutive games. He is ninth in the nation in rebounds per game (11.2).
Rubit moved into 12th place at USA in career scoring (1,078) and third place in career rebounds (733), and entered the top 25 in Sun Belt history. He needs five boards to take second place at USA from Ed Rains. Rubit scored his 1,000th career point Dec. 22 vs. UALR.
Ammons, the Sun Belt's most accurate 3-point shooter at 48.6 percent, went 3-for-6 from beyond the arc vs. MTSU, equaling his 3-point total from the previous five games combined.
The Trojans picked up their first Sun Belt win of the season on Saturday, defeating UALR at home, 67-64. Troy now sits at 6-10 on the season and 1-4 in the Sun Belt Conference.
Neither team led by more than six points in the first half, but UALR took a commanding 10-point lead midway through the second. Troy would respond, outscoring UALR 28-15 over the last 10:48, including a pair of clutch free throws by R.J. Scott with 16.9 seconds to play.
Emil Jones is the only Trojan averaging double-figures this season, scoring 10.1 points per game. Westley Hinton has come on strong of late, averaging 11.5 points and nine rebounds over the last two games.
Troy will face ULM on Thursday night at 6 p.m., a game that will be televised by the Sun Belt Network. The Trojans are 6-2 all-time against the Warhawks, including a 91-63 win last season. Troy tied an NCAA record in the last meeting with the Warhawks, draining 11 consecutive 3-pointers en route to the 28-point blowout.
Head coach Don Maestri will be honored on Thursday, as the court at Trojan Arena will be re-named "Court Maestri". Maestri currently sits just six wins away from 500 in his career, after serving on the Trojan bench for 30+ seasons.
WKU jumped out to a 4-0 start in Sun Belt Conference play, its best since 2005-06, but the Hilltoppers dropped a pair of road games last week at UALR and Arkansas State to move to 10-7 overall and 4-2 in conference play. In both games, the Hilltoppers erased a double-digit first-half deficit to take a lead, but the home team regrouped to win each time. The Hilltoppers shot 42.6 percent as a team over the two games, and the team hit 20 three-pointers. WKU has now had at least nine three-pointers in four-straight games. Brandon Harris led WKU with 14.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game on the week, and he has now led WKU in rebounding in five-straight games. In addition, the junior guard has played all but six minutes of the last seven Hilltopper games. The loss at UALR ended an eight-game Hilltopper winning streak against the Trojans, and WKU lost for just the second time in the last nine games against the Red Wolves on Saturday night. The Hilltoppers, who have played the fifth-most games in the country at this point in the season, have a week off before beginning a three-game homestand Saturday night against Florida Atlantic.