Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball news and notes - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball news and notes

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From the Sun Belt Conference

Middle Tennessee continues to lead the pack in Sun Belt men's basketball with a 16-4 overall record and an 8-1 league record. The Blue Raiders are one win away from guaranteeing a winning season and have already clinched a winning record in the regular season. MT plays 31 regular season games this year and has the potential of further games in the conference tournament and a postseason berth. This would be the ninth winning season under Davis and fifth in the last six years for MT.

MT has continued to defend its home court this season after finishing 15-2 in Murphy Center last year. The Blue Raiders are 11-0 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 23 straight regular-season victories in Murphy Center for the Blue Raiders. MT is now 25-2 over the last two seasons in Murphy Center.

WKU will travel to Murfreesboro to face Middle Tennessee Saturday afternoon on ESPN2. Game time is set for 3 p.m.

Before WKU's Saturday nationally televised game, the Hilltoppers will battle the east division second place team South Alabama. USA has alternated wins and losses in its last seven games. The Jaguars will be going for back-to-back wins for the first time since Dec. 16 (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) and Dec. 22 (Arkansas at Little Rock).

UALR (12-9, 6-4 SBC) maintained a half-game lead in the Sun Belt's West Division after splitting a pair of road games at Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky in the most recent reporting week. After matching a season low for points scored in its 82-50 loss against the Blue Raiders at the Murphy Center on Thursday, UALR rebounded with a 59-54 win over Western Kentucky at E.A. Diddle Arena on Saturday. The win Saturday was UALR's first true road win of the season, and was the Trojans' first victory at Diddle Arena since Feb. 17, 2005.

Arkansas State senior guard Trey Finn became the 24th individual in program history to score 1,000 career points with a first-half ending three-point field goal in Saturday's (1/19) conference home victory over ULM. Finn, who finished with a game and season-high 17 points in the contest, has presently compiled 1,007 career points in 108 games and is six points shy of tying Jabari Myles (1994-98; 1,013 career points) for 23rd place on the program's all-time leaders list.

 

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

 

Brandon Harris (WKU, Jr., G)

WKU junior guard Brandon Harris had an impressive offensive week for the Hilltoppers, averaging 19.0 points per game in two conference contests. He also added 8.5 rebounds per game and hit 7-of-15 three-point tries on the weekend (.467) in 36.0 minutes per game. The Oklahoma City, Okla., native helped the Hilltoppers to a win over Louisiana-Lafayette Thursday night with 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and he followed it up with 22 points and eight rebounds against UALR on Saturday in a game in which he hit six three-pointers. The junior has led WKU in a time in which the roster is depleted due to injury.

 

Upcoming Games

 

1/24/2013

* Florida Atlantic at UALR - 6:00 PM

* FIU at UL-Lafayette - 7:00 PM

* Middle Tennessee at North Texas - 7:00 PM

* Arkansas State at Troy - 7:30 PM

* WKU at South Alabama - 7:30 PM (HSSN/ESPN3)

 

1/26/2013

* Troy at UL-Monroe - 4:00 PM

* WKU at Middle Tennessee - 3:00 PM (ESPN2)

* UALR at North Texas - 7:00 PM

* Florida Atlantic at Arkansas State - 7:30 PM (Sun Belt Network)

 

1/27/2013

* FIU at South Alabama - 4:05 PM

 

Recent Results

 

1/17/2013

* Florida Atlantic 80, Troy 59

* FIU 70, North Texas 64

* Middle Tennessee 82, UALR 50 (ESPN3)

* Western Kentucky 72, Louisiana-Lafayette 49 (HSSN/ESPN3)

*South Alabama 71, Louisiana-Monroe 56

 

1/19/2013

* UALR 59, WKU 54 (HSSN/ESPN3)

* Middle Tennessee 72, Louisiana-Lafayette 58

* North Texas 61, Florida Atlantic 59 (OT)

* FIU 61, Troy 55

* Arkansas State 63, Louisiana-Monroe 39

 

Team News and Notes

 

UALR Trojans

UALR (12-9, 6-4 SBC) maintained a half-game lead in the Sun Belt's West Division after splitting a pair of road games at Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky in the most recent reporting week. After matching a season low for points scored in its 82-50 loss against the Blue Raiders at the Murphy Center on Thursday, UALR rebounded with a 59-54 win over Western Kentucky at E.A. Diddle Arena on Saturday. The win Saturday was UALR's first true road win of the season, and was the Trojans' first victory at Diddle Arena since Feb. 17, 2005.

 

Middle Tennessee topped UALR by an 82-50 final Thursday night at the Murphy Center. The Blue Raiders finished the game shooting 56.0 percent from the floor (28-of-50) and 64.3 percent from long range (9-of-14). The Blue Raiders' defense forced the Trojans into 19 turnovers and limited the Trojans to just 35.3 percent shooting from the field. MT also held UALR to a season-low four assists. Middle Tennessee won the battle of the boards, 37-to-25, and led in points in the paint, 28-to-20. The Blue Raiders handed out 23 assists on 28 made field goals.

 

UALR trailed 26-25 at halftime against WKU on Saturday, but held the Hilltoppers to 28.6 percent shooting in the second half while hitting 60.9 percent of its own shots over the final 20 minutes to earn a 59-54 win at E.A. Diddle Arena on Saturday.

 

UALR is now 10-1 at home on the season, 1-1 in neutral site games and 1-7 in true road games.

Preseason First Team All-SBC selection Will Neighbour continues to lead UALR in scoring (11.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.7 rpg). Neighbour had led UALR in rebounding in seven-straight games before Saturday's matchup against Western Kentucky. With 22 blocks through 21 games this season, Neighbour is just four blocks shy of tying his season total (26) from a season ago. With 26 steals, the Grayshott, England-native is just a single steal short of matching his 2011-12 season total.

 

UALR is 4-2 since inserting freshman Josh Hagins into the starting lineup vs. Western Kentucky on Jan. 3. Over that same span, Hagins is averaging 11.0 points, 5.5 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game, all while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor. Hagins has reached double figures in scoring in each of his last five games, and has dished out five-plus assists in four of his six games since being inserted into the starting lineup.

 

Freshman Kemy Osse had one of the best games of his young career in UALR's win over WKU on Saturday. Osse scored eight points off the bench and grabbed a career-best seven rebounds in 18 minutes of work. Over his last six games, Osse is shooting 58.3 percent from three point range (7-of-12) and 81.8 percent from the foul line (9-of-11).

 

Arkansas State Red Wolves

Senior guard Trey Finn, who scored a team-high 15 points at Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday (1/12), is 10 points away from recording his 1,000th career point. Finn has accumulated 990 points in 107 games and is presently averaging 9.3 points per outing. He's also currently 23 points shy of tying Jabari Myles (1994-98; 1,013 career points) for 23rd place among the Red Wolves' all-time leaders.

 

Freshman guard-forward Raeford Worsham snapped a four-game non double-digit scoring streak with 12 points off the bench at Louisiana-Lafayette (1/12). Worsham has registered eight double-figure scoring contests this campaign.

 

Trey Finn became the 14th ASU player to attain 600 career rebounds after garnering six boards at Louisiana-Lafayette (1/12). Finn, who's currently averaging 5.6 rebounds per contest in 107 career appearances, is 27 rebounds shy of equaling Gaylon Ward's (1960-62) 627 career total for 13th place on the program's all-time leaders list.

 

The Red Wolves have outrebounded their opponent in five of their last six contests, which includes the last four outings. ASU is averaging 40.7 rebounds a game (244 total) in its last six encounters and 39.5 caroms per contest in its last four matchups.

 

Senior forward Brandon Peterson is 32 rebounds away from moving into a ninth-place tie with Mike Burk (1964-68; 775 career rebounds) on ASU's all-time rebounding leaders list. Peterson has presently chalked up 743 career boards in 113 games for a 6.6 average per contest.

 

ASU's top three scoring leaders this month – junior guard Ed Townsel (13.8 ppg.), Trey Finn (11.5 ppg.), and Brandon Peterson (10.5 ppg.) have combined to generate 54.8% (143-261) of the Red Wolves' points production.

 

Raeford Worsham is averaging 9.2 points per game (83 total) in nine home contests this season compared to a 6.6 points a contest average (53 total) in eight away outings.

 

Trey Finn has tallied double-digit point totals in each of his last three appearances and is averaging 13.7 points per contest (41 total) in that span. Finn registered a 4.4 points a game average (22 total) in his prior five outings.

 

Florida Atlantic Owls

With a 80-59 win over Troy, seniors Greg Gantt, Jordan McCoy and Andre Mattison tied for the winningest senior class since FAU joined Division I. The trio has won 56 games since arriving on campus.. For the season, Gantt is averaging 22.5 points a game and currently sits 16th in Sun Belt history with 1,744 career points. He has also scored 20 or more points in 11 consecutive games. Jordan McCoy is now 7th in in FAU history in career rebounds with 479. Sophomore Kelvin Penn is now 4th in program history with 95 career blocked shots. Saturday's game was the second straight overtime the two teams have played. FAU defeated North Texas 86-81 in double overtime last season. The 61-59 loss to North Texas was the Owls' fourth of the season by three points or less.

 

FIU Panthers

The FIU men's basketball team picked up a pair of conference victories at home this past week, improving the team's record to 10-8 overall and 5-4 in Sun Belt Conference play. With 10 victories, while surpassed its win total from a year ago, while equaling its conference win total from last season. The two victories also increased the team's home winning streak to five games, the longest in a single season since FIU won 13-straight during the 1997-1998 season.

 

The Panthers began the week with a 70-64 win over North Texas on Thursday, Jan. 17. The six-point victory snapped a three-game losing skid to the Mean Green and marked the first win in regulation for the Panthers over North Texas since Jan. 18, 2007. Junior Tymell Murphy led all Panthers with 22 points while Malik Smith added 17. Smith converted 5-of-6 free throws in the final 40 seconds of the game to seal the team's ninth win of the year.

 

Two days later, FIU produced a come-from-behind victory of the Troy Trojans, 61-55. Trailing by eight points with just under 10 minutes to go, the Panthers out-scored the Trojans, 24-10, to close out the game and extend FIU's home winning streak to five games. Smith, who had a game-high 22 points, scored 13 of his points in the second half as well as 10 in the final 10 minutes.

 

The Panthers come into this week's action, averaging 69.3 points-per-game (No. 4 in the conference) on 42.1 percent shooting (No. 5 in the conference). The Panthers are converting 34.7 percent of their shots from 3-point range (No. 5 in the conference) and 58.9 percent of their shots from the free-throw line (No. 5 in the conference). FIU ranks No. 2 in the league in steals, averaging 9.3 steals-per-game.

 

Leading FIU offensively is Murphy, who comes into this week's action averaging 15.4 points-per-game (No. 5 in the conference). The Brooklyn, N.Y., native leads the SBC and rank No. 12 in the nation in shooting percentage (.594). The FIU record for shooting percentage in a single season is 61.3 percent held by Byron Burrnett (2004-2005). Murphy also ranks among the league leaders in rebounding, averaging 7.2 (No. 7 in the conference). Smith comes into this week's action, averaging 14.9 points-per-game (No. 6 in the conference). The 6-foot-2 shooting guard leads the conference and ranks No. 16 nationally, in 3-point field goals made (3.2 per game). Smith rank No. 6 in the conference in free-throw percentage and No. 8 in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (38.5). Freshman Jerome Frink leads the team and ranks No. 6 in the conference in rebounding (7.3 rpg). Sophomore Deric Hill comes into Thursday's game with Louisiana ranked No. 9 in the conference in assists (2.9 apg) and No. 3 in steals (2.0 spg).

 

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

Louisiana returns to the comfy confines of the Cajundome this week to start a stretch that will have them play six of their next eight contests on their home. The Ragin' Cajuns host FIU on Thursday in their only game this week. Louisiana (7-14, 3-7) has played well in the Cajundome this year, winning six of the nine games it has played at home, including league wins over UALR (79-70) and Arkansas State (61-56) and a double overtime loss to South Alabama (91-89). The Cajuns are coming off of losses at WKU (72-49) and Middle Tennessee (82-60) last week.

 

A 21-point, 13-rebound effort at Middle Tennessee on Saturday gave redshirt freshman forward Shawn Long his 12th double-double in 21 games to move into third place nationally. Towson's Jerrelle Benimon and Mike Muscala from Bucknell share the national lead with 13 double-doubles with Long and Siena senior O.D. Anosike being one back with 12 double-doubles. Long has registered double-doubles in four straight games and has six double-doubles in nine league games this season.

 

Third-year Cajuns head coach Bob Marlin is quickly closing in on the 600th game of his coaching career with Thursday's game being his 597th with his 600th coming at home against UL-Monroe on Feb. 10. A 33-year coaching veteran, Marlin has served as a head coach for 20 seasons, posting a 385-211.

 

After playing FIU on Thursday, the Cajuns will enjoy a much-needed Saturday off this week. After going through the month of November without playing any games on a Saturday, the Cajuns have played games on eight straight Saturdays since Dec. 1 with five of those contests coming on the road. The light schedule this week is also the first time since final exams were held during the first week of December that Louisiana will play just one game in a week.

 

The Ragin' Cajuns are looking forward to playing six of their next eight games at home, a building where they have enjoyed great success since it opened in 1985-86. Louisiana is 6-3 at home this year, improving the Cajuns to 26-12 (14-6 SBC) in the three seasons under Bob Marlin. Winning at home is nothing new as Louisiana has recorded a winning record in 25 of the 27 seasons since the Cajundome opened its doors in the 1985-86 season.

 

A 57-rebound effort in the last four games has allowed Shawn Long to take over the mantra as the top freshman rebounder in the country this year. Long has grabbed 214 rebounds in 21 games (10.2 rpg) to rank ahead of Longwood's Michael Kessens (9.5) and Binghamton's Jordan Reed (9.5).

 

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

ULM (3-12, 2-7 SBC) suffered a pair of road losses last week at South Alabama (71-56) and Arkansas State (63-39) ... The Warhawks remain one win shy of reaching 900 in program history … Junior guard Marcelis Hansberry tied his season high with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting against South Alabama … Hansberry leads the team with seven double-figure scoring games this season ... The Warhawks tallied a season-low 39 points two nights later at Arkansas State, including just 14 in the second half ... Junior forward Jayon James paced ULM with 11 points, four assists and two steals, while junior guard Amos Olatayo finished with a career-high 11 rebounds ... ULM out-rebounded Arkansas State 38-33 – just the second time it has rebounded its opponent this season ... ULM has a week off before returning home to face Troy on Saturday (Jan. 26) at 4 p.m. inside Fant-Ewing Coliseum.

 

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

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 sits third with 106 league wins, behind Arrow (112) and Gene Bartow (111).

 

The Blue Raiders are one win away from guaranteeing a winning season and have aleady clinched a winning record in the regular season. MT plays 31 regular season games this year and has the potential of further games in the conference tournament and a postseason berth. This would be the ninth winning season under Davis and fifth in the last six years for MT.

 

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 11-0 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 23 straight regular-season victories in Murphy Center for the Blue Raiders. MT is now 25-2 over the last two seasons in Murphy Center.

 

MT is currently ranked 38th in ESPN's Daily RPI, 46th in the NCAA RPI, 45th in the Sagarin Ratings and 46th according to the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings. The Blue Raiders are also ranked No. 10 in ESPN's Mid-Major poll. The Blue Raiders are the highest ranked Sun Belt team in all ratings.

 

According to Ken Pomeroy, MT is tied as the second-most experienced team in the country with an average of 2.53 years, behind only Valparaiso (2.69) and matching Savannah State. The roster features a combined 13 juniors and seniors compared to four freshmen and sophomores.

 

The Blue Raider bench accounts for 43.3 percent of the minutes, which ranks 10th nationally according Pomeroy. MT currently has nine players averaging more than 12 minutes per game. Seven of those are averaging more than 18 minutes. Nine different Blue Raiders have been the leading scorer and nine Blue Raiders have combined for 52 double-figure scoring performances.

 

The Blue Raider bench has outscored its opponent in all but one game this season, currently owning a 589-269 advantage, or an average of 29.4 to 13.4 points per game.

 

North Texas Mean Green

North Texas earned a split on the week after picking up a gritty road win at Florida Atlantic. Freshman P.J. Hardwick played all 45 minutes of the contest and scored five of his eight points in the overtime frame to seal the victory, which was made possible by Tony Mitchell's 24 point explosion. Roger Franklin, who scored a career-high 29 points on 73 percent shooting at FIU, hit the tip-in at the regulation buzzer to send the game into overtime.

 

Tony Mitchell became the North Texas career shot blocking king against FIU on Thursday. The sophomore now has 124 career blocks, which passed Jeffrey Simpson (119 from 2004-06) for the record. Mitchell, who has 54 blocks in 2012-13, now has his sights set on his own single-season blocks record of 70 set last season.

 

On Saturday night at FAU, North Texas took the floor for the second time this year with just seven scholarship players (also at UALR). Just 20 games into the season, NT's injuries have already accounted for 39 individual games missed.

 

North Texas picked up its first win at FAU Arena in three tries. FAU Arena was the final Sun Belt venue that NT had yet to win at. The last two games in Boca Raton between these two squads have been decided in overtime.

 

The FAU victory marked NT's first true road win of the season. NT had won a pair of neutral-court games in the NIT Season Tipoff against Lamar and IUPUI, but entered Saturday night with an 0-7 mark in true road games.

 

The number 67 seems to be the magic mark for NT this season. The Mean Green is now 8-0 when it holds its opponent under that number, but is 0-12 when its opponent scores more than 67.

 

South Alabama Jaguars

South Alabama has alternated wins and losses in its last seven games. The Jaguars will be going for back-to-back wins for the first time since Dec. 16 (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) and Dec. 22 (Arkansas at Little Rock).

 

The Jaguars are 9-0 when leading or tied at halftime and 0-8 when trailing at the break.

 

Thursday's game vs. WKU will mark the fourth time South Alabama has had a week or more in between games. USA won their first two games after a long break (at FAU, vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) but lost on the last occasion (vs. Arkansas State).

 

The Jags shot 62.5 percent in the second half vs. ULM, the highest percentage in a half this season. The previous high of 61.1 percent came in the first ULM matchup on Jan. 3.

 

Freddie Goldstein hit a season-high five 3-pointers against Louisiana at Monroe in 10 attempts. The five treys made are a career high in the Mitchell Center. He hit a school-record nine twice last season but both were on the road (at Troy, at ULM).

 

With a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds against ULM, Augustine Rubit moved into 11th place at USA in career scoring (1,139) and 17th in Sun Belt history in career rebounds (760).

 

His 23-point outing was his sixth game with 20-plus points in his last nine games. He is second in the Sun Belt and 22nd in Division I in scoring average (19.5).

 

Rubit has grabbed nine rebounds in each of his last three games, tying his longest streak this season with single-digit boards. He leads the Sun Belt in rebounding (10.8 rpg) and is eighth in the nation.

 

Rubit has two career double-doubles in four career games vs. WKU, but has scored more than 11 points just once: 20 in Bowling Green last season.

 

While normally leading the team in blocks, Javier Carter paced the squad in rebounding Thursday for the first time this season, grabbing a career-high-tying 10 vs. ULM. Nine of those rebounds came on the defensive boards.

 

Carter did block one shot to extend his streak to 10 games with at least one block. He is third in the Sun Belt with 2.1 per contest.

 

Troy Trojans

The Trojans struggled on their recent road trip to South Florida, falling at Florida Atlantic on Thursday night and FIU on Saturday.

 

Troy took an eight-point lead midway through the second half at FIU, but could not hold on. After starting the game 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, the Trojans cooled off significantly, finishing the game just 6-of-21. Emil Jones returned to the starting lineup for the first time since North Texas, finishing the game with 18 points, five boards, four assists and two steals.

 

Troy is now looking to snap a two-game losing streak with a home game against Arkansas State on Thursday. The Trojans will wrap up the week with a road contest at ULM on Saturday.

 

WKU Hilltoppers

WKU split a pair of conference games at home last week, defeating Louisiana-Lafayette 72-49 on Thursday before falling to UALR on Saturday evening, 59-54. The win against the Ragin' Cajuns featured the first time WKU held a conference opponent under 50 points since February 13, 2010, and the win snapped a three-game losing streak. Four Hilltoppers were in double figures against the Ragin' Cajuns, led by Brandon Harris' 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists. The Hilltoppers dropped a 59-54 decision to UALR less than 48 hours later after a cold shooting night in which WKU endured scoring droughts of 15-plus minutes at the ends of each half. Harris buried a Hilltopper season high six three-pointers in the loss and finished with 22 points. WKU turns its attention to the road after three-straight at home, beginning Thursday night at South Alabama. The Hilltoppers will then travel to Murfreesboro to face Middle Tennessee Saturday afternoon on ESPN2.

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