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Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball news and notes

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Middle Tennessee has now won seven in a row and 11 of the last 12 games, including Saturday's win against WKU on ESPN2.

 

The Blue Raiders are one of 10 teams in the country with at least 18 wins and with those 18 wins, they have already clinched a winning 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 is the ninth winning season under Davis and fifth in the last six years for MT.

 

The Blue Raiders lead the Sun Belt in several prominent rankings as they are 36th in NCAA RPI, 43th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings and 55th in Jeff Sagarin's rankings.

 

In addition to Middle Tennessee's win streak, both UALR and South Alabama are each on three game win streaks.

 

UALR has matched its longest winning streak of the season with wins against Florida Atlantic and North Texas. Thursday's game against FAU saw the Trojans overcome a 22-point deficit, making it the biggest come-from-behind win of the Steve Shields era, and improved UALR's home victory to 11-1 on the season. With Saturday's win at North Texas, the Trojans, who started the season with losses in each of their first seven true road games, have now won back-to-back road contests for the first time since earning victories at ULM (Jan. 12, 2012) and Arkansas State (Jan 14, 2012) last year.

 

The Trojans currently lead the Sun Belt West Division over instate foe Arkansas State.

 

USA is on a three-game win streak for the first time this season. The team had won two in a row three times before the current run. USA has given up less than 60 points over three straight games for the first time since the end of the 1999-00 season. Opponents are scoring 57.0 ppg during the streak. FIU scored 22 points in the first half Sunday, the fewest by a USA opponent this season.

 

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

 

Will Neighbour (UALR, Jr., F)

Junior Will Neighbour had another stellar week of basketball in the most recent reporting week, leading UALR (14-9, 8-4 SBC) to wins over Florida Atlantic and North Texas and helping maintain UALR's spot atop the Sun Belt's West Division. First, Neighbour helped fuel the Trojans' 22-point comeback against FAU on Thursday, collecting his fourth double-double of the season with a career-best 24 points and 11 rebounds on 7-of-10 shooting. The 6-10 forward followed that up with 11 points, six rebounds and a career-high four steals in a win at North Texas on Saturday. Neighbour finished the week averaging 17.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks, all while shooting 64.7 percent from the floor, 66.7 percent from three-point range and 73.3 percent from the foul line. Through 23 games this season, the Grayshott, England-native has led UALR in scoring 10 times and led the team in rebounding 15 times, including nine of the last ten games.

 

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

 

1/31/2013

* UL-Monroe at Florida Atlantic - 6:00 PM

* Middle Tennessee at FIU - 6:30 PM

* North Texas at UL-Lafayette - 7:00 PM

* Troy at WKU - 7:00 PM (HSSN/ESPN3)

* South Alabama at Arkansas State - 7:05 PM

 

2/2/2013

* Middle Tennessee at FAU - 6:00 PM

* UL-Monroe at FIU - 6:30 PM

* South Alabama at UALR - 7:00 PM

* North Texas at Arkansas State - 7:05 PM

* UL-Lafayette at Troy - 7:30 PM

 

Team News and Notes

 

UALR Trojans

UALR (14-9, 8-4 SBC) matched its longest winning streak of the season (3) with wins against Florida Atlantic (Thursday, Jan. 24) and North Texas (Saturday, Jan. 26). Thursday's game against FAU saw the Trojans overcome a 22-point deficit, making it the biggest come-from-behind win of the Steve Shields era, and improved UALR's home victory to 11-1 on the season. With Saturday's win at North Texas, the Trojans, who started the season with losses in each of their first seven true road games, have now won back-to-back road contests for the first time since earning victories at ULM (Jan. 12, 2012) and Arkansas State (Jan 14, 2012) last year.

 

UALR held FAU to 62 points and North Texas to just 57, and is now 13-1 on the season when holding opponents to fewer than 70 points.

 

Against FAU, junior Will Neighbour posted his fourth double-double of the season with a career-high 24 points and 11 rebounds. Neighbour finished the game 7-of-10 from the floor and 8-of-11 from the foul line in 35 minutes of action. Freshman Kemy Osse was the only other Trojan to score in double figures, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds. Junior Leroy Isler scored seven points for the Trojans, but more importantly held FAU's Greg Gantt, who came into the game leading the Sun Belt in scoring at 22.5 ppg, to just 13 points on 3-of-7 shooting. Freshman Josh Hagins added seven points on 3-of-4 shooting, while sophomore Ben Dillard and freshman James White combined for eight points off the bench.

 

Against North Texas, Neighbour, Hagins and White led UALR with 11 points apiece. Neighbour rounded out his line with team highs in rebounds (6) and steals (4). Isler added nine points and a steal. UALR held the Mean Green to just 34.6 percent shooting from the field (21-of-51) and 31.8 percent from three-point range (7-of-22). The Trojans shot 41.2 percent from the floor (21-of-51) on the night and 46.2 percent from long range (6-of-13). UALR's bench outscored the North Texas reserves, 24-0, led by White's 11 and eight points from freshman John Gillon.

 

Neighbour finished the week averaging 17.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks, all while shooting 64.7 percent from the floor, 66.7 percent from three-point range and 73.3 percent from the foul line. Through 23 games this season, the Grayshott, England-native has led UALR in scoring 10 times and led the team in rebounding 15 times, including nine of the last ten games.

 

This week, UAL R will have Thursday night off before hosting South Alabama on Saturday at 7 p.m. In the team's first meeting this season, the Jaguars topped the Trojans 77-62 on Dec. 22 in Mobile, Ala.

 

Arkansas State Red Wolves

Senior forward Brandon Peterson tallied his 1,000th career point in Saturday's (1/26) victory over Florida Atlantic as a result of scoring a layup with 1:47 remaining in the contest. Peterson, who scored a game-high 15 points in the win and has presently accumulated 1,001 career points in 116 outings, is the 25th individual in ASU history to reach the significant scoring milestone.

 

Brandon Peterson posted his eighth double-double of this season and extended his current streak to three straight as a result of game highs in points (15) and rebounds (10) against Florida Atlantic (1/26). Peterson began his present string with 11 points and 12 rebounds versus ULM (1/19) followed by a 15-point, 12-rebound performance at Troy (1/24).

 

Arkansas State has limited the opposition to 53.0 points per game (212 pts.) in its last four contests after allowing 60.3 points a game (241 pts.) in the squad's previous four outing. The Red Wolves are averaging 62.2 points per game (249 pts.) in their last four encounters compared to 67.0 points an outing (268 pts.) in their four prior appearances.

 

Senior guard Trey Finn has scored double figures five of his last six contests to date after tallying 11 points against Florida Atlantic (1/26). Finn is averaging 12.5 points per game (75 pts.) during the six-contest span (1/5-26). He averaged 6.2 points a contest (37 pts.) in his previous six outings (12/16-1/3).

 

A-State's 38 points allowed in its 63-38 home conference win over Florida Atlantic last Saturday (1/26) not only represented a team season best, but was three points shy of tying the ASU Convocation record for fewest points scored by an opponent. The Red Wolves claimed a 60-35 home decision over Denver (2/5/11) in the 2010-11 season.

 

The Red Wolves posted a 6-4 record in their initial 10 games this season and have registered an identical 6-4 mark in their last 10 contests. ASU averaged 70.2 points per game (702 pts.) and allowed 65.9 points an outing (659 pts.) in their first 10 encounters. In the last 10 contests, A-State scored at a 67.3 points a game clip (673 pts.) and held its opponent to a 59.6 points per outing average (596 pts.).

 

Brandon Peterson is 23 rebounds shy of attaining his 800th career rebound and would become the eighth individual in ASU history to reach the milestone. Peterson compiled 10 rebounds against Florida Atlantic (1/26) to move into ninth place on A-State's all-time rebounding leaders list with a present 777 rebounds total. He surpassed Mike Burk's (1964-68) 775-career total and is five boards away from matching Fred Shepherd's (1989-93) 782 rebounds for eighth-place honors.

 

Florida Atlantic Owls

Seniors Greg Gantt, Jordan McCoy and Andre Mattison are one win away from becoming the winningest senior class since FAU joined Division I. The trio has won 56 games since arriving on campus. Gantt currently sits 16th in Sun Belt history with 1,770 career points. However, he did his streak of 11 straight games with 20 or more points snapped against UALR. Jordan McCoy is now 6th in in FAU history in career rebounds with 489. Sophomore Kelvin Penn is now 4th in program history with 96 career blocked shots. The 65-62 loss to UALR was the Owls' fifth of the season by three points or less. The Owls will play one game (2/9 at South Alabama) outside of the state of Florida before the 15th of February. Stefan Moody scored a career high 24 points in FAU's loss to UALR. Richard Morrow scored seven points and had a career high seven rebounds in his first significant action in more than three weeks. The Owls recorded several dubious marks in their loss to Arkansas State. Their 38 total points tied for the second lowest in school history. They also failed to hit a three-pointer and had their lowest assist total (two) since at least the 1997-98 season.

 

FIU Panthers

The FIU men's basketball team (11-9, 6-5 SBC) split a pair of road conference games, defeating Louisiana, 80-75, on Thursday, Jan. 24, and falling to South Alabama, 60-58, on Sunday, Jan. 27. With the split, FIU registered its 11th win overall (the most at this point in the season since the 1999-2000 season) and sixth conference victory (the fifth-most by the Panthers since joining the conference in 1998-1999.

 

FIU, which has registered a 7-2 record in the month of January, is one of the hottest team in the Sun Belt having own five of its last seven conference games and enters this Thursday's home match riding a five-game home winning streak. The Panthers will host the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on Thursday, looking to avenge a loss to them earlier in the year (69-52 on Dec. 29 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.).

 

The Panthers come into this week's action averaging 69.3 points-per-game (No. 4 in the conference) on 42.0 percent shooting (No. 4 in the conference). FIU has converted 33.6 percent from 3-point range (No, 6 in the conference) and 69.8 percent from the free-throw line (No. 3 in the conference). FIU ranks No. 2 in the conference in steals, averaging 9.0 steals-per-game.

 

FIU is led offensively by junior Tymell Murphy, who is averaging 15.2 points-per-game (No. 4 in the conference) and 7.6 rebounds-per-contest (No. 5 in the conference). The Brooklyn, N.Y., native is the league's leader in shooting percentage (59.7 percent) and is among the top 15 nationally. Murphy has scored in double-figures in 12 –straight games. Second on the team in scoring is junior Malik Smith, who comes into Thursday's contest averaging 14.5 points-per-game (No. 7 in the conference). The Boston, Mass., native leads the conference in 3-point field goals made (3.0 per game) and has drained 60 treys on the year (No. 8 all-time at FIU). Smith also ranks No. 5 in the conference in free-throw percentage (78.9). Freshman Jerome Frink poured in a pair of double-digit scoring performances this week, including his second 20-point outing of the year (20 points at Louisiana – 1/24). The Jersey City, N.J., native is averaging 10.2 points-per-game (No. 26 in the conference) and 7.3 rebounds-per-contest (No. 6 in the conference). Sophomore Deric Hill enters Thursday ranked No. 8 in the conference in assists-per-game (2.8) and No. 4 in the conference in steals-per-game (1.9).

 

Through 11 conference games, the FIU men's basketball team has faced six squads from the Sun Belt Conference West Division. In those games, FIU owns a 5-1 mark and is averaging 74.5 points-per-game, while allowing 70.3 points-per-game. The Panthers, who swept Arkansas State in the season series earlier this month, also swept the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns following an 80-75 win in Lafayette this past Thursday.

 

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

After enjoying a seven-day break between games for the first time since early December, Louisiana returns to the Cajundome hardwood on Thursday, Jan. 31 for a 7:00 p.m. game against North Texas. Third place in the Sun Belt west division will be at stake when the Cajuns take on the Mean Green as both teams bring 3-8 league records into the contest. Louisiana won the first meeting this year, an 80-76 decision in Denton on Dec. 1, giving the Cajuns a 20-15 lead in the all-time series including a 13-4 record in games played in Lafayette (12-2 in the Cajundome).

 

A 21-point, 14-rebound effort against FIU on Jan. 24 gave redshirt freshman forward Shawn Long his 13th double-double in 21 games to move into third place nationally. Towson's Jerrelle Benimon and Mike Muscala from Bucknell continue share the national lead with 14 double-doubles with Long and Siena senior O.D. Anosike being one back with 13 double-doubles. Long has registered double-doubles in five straight games and has seven double-doubles in 10 league games this season.

 

When Elfrid Payton (22 points), Alan-Michael Thompson (22) and Shawn Long (21) each surpassed the 20-point mark against FIU on Jan. 24, it marked the first time since 2005-06 season that the Cajuns had three players with 20 or more points in a game.

 

With 44 blocked shots in 22 games this year, Shawn Long ranks fourth in the Sun Belt in blocks. His block total ranks him eighth on the Louisiana single season chart, four short of seventh place Reginald Poole, who blocked 48 shots in 1996-97. Long's 2.0 blocks per game is fifth-best in school history.

 

Alan-Michael Thompson stepped up to provide the Cajuns with an outside shooting presence against FIU on Jan. 24, setting career highs for three-point field goals made (6) and attempted (16). The 16 three-point attempts was the second-highest single game total in school history, two shy of the school record of 18 set by Brad Boyd vs. Mississippi State on Nov. 23, 2002. The six treys is the most by a Cajun since Boyd had seven at Birmingham-Southern on Dec.8, 2002. The effort allowed Thompson to equal the most three-point field goals made and attempted in the Sun Belt 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 vs. North Texas being his 598th with his 600th coming at home against UL-Monroe on Feb. 10.

 

One of the best examples of the youth of the Cajuns this season is that Louisiana has not fared well in close games, going 2-9 in games decided by six points or less, including a pair of overtime losses.

 

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

ULM (3-13, 2-8 SBC) had its comeback attempt fall just short in a 71-64 overtime loss to Troy on Saturday in its only game of the week. The Warhawks trailed by as many as 10 in the second half, but used a 13-1 run in the final minutes to get back into the game. Sophomore Trent Mackey drained a 3-pointer with one second remaining to send the game into overtime. Junior Amos Olatayo paced the Warhawks with 21 points, marking the fourth time this season he has scored at least 20 points in a game. Junior Jayon James scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, and Mackey chipped in 12 points off the bench. The Warhawks forced overtime despite making just 10-of-24 attempts from the free-throw line in regulation. The Warhawks have now dropped five straight games. ULM heads to Florida next to take on Florida Atlantic on Thursday and FIU on Saturday.

 

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

MT has won seven in a row and 11 of the last 12 games. MT is one of 10 teams in the country with at least 18 wins. And with those 18 wins, the Blue Raiders have already clinched a winning 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 is the ninth winning season under Davis and fifth in the last six years for MT.

 

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 108 league wins, behind Arrow (112) and Gene Bartow (111).

 

MT has continued to defend its home court this season after finishing 15-2 in Murphy Center last year. The Blue Raiders are 12-0 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 24 straight regular-season victories in Murphy Center for the Blue Raiders. MT is now 26-2 over the last two seasons in Murphy Center.

 

MT has not trailed after halftime in its last seven games. The Blue Raiders are 15-0 this season when leading at halftime.

 

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.

 

Pomeroy ranks the Blue Raiders seventh in 3-point defense at 28.1 percent and 31st nationally in defensive efficiency with a rating of 89.1. Opponents also haven't had much luck at the line against MT. The opposition is shooting 62.7 percent from the stripe, fourth-lowest in the country. The Blue Raiders have held six of their last seven opponents to 60 points or less and 10 of their last 12.

 

MT ranks the highest in the Sun Belt in all of the following:

NCAA RPI: 36

ESPN Daily RPI: 37

ESPN BPI: 44

Pomeroy: 43

Sagarin: 55

ESPN Mid-Major Poll: 8

Bleacher Report Mid-Major: 6

 

North Texas Mean Green

North Texas went toe-to-toe with the Sun Belt's division leaders last weekend, but fell just short in home matchups with Middle Tennessee and UALR. NT cut the Blue Raider lead to five on a 3-pointer from Niko Stojiljkovic with 1:23 on the clock, but couldn't get any closer. Against the Trojans, a Roger Franklin layup cut the UALR lead to four points with 47 seconds remaining, but UALR made the plays down the stretch to win, 62-57.

 

With NT in need of a scorer, Jordan Williams emerged as one of the Sun Belt's most potent threats with a pair of 20-point outings last week. The sophomore posted games of 20 and 22 points – both game highs – including a 38.5 percent clip on 13 attempts from 3-point. Williams' efforts kept NT in tight games against the league's division leaders. Against UALR, the Dallas native snapped his streak of 22 straight free throw makes, but he still ranks fourth in the league with a clip of 79.5 percent.

 

Speaking of free throws, no Sun Belt team has been better in league play than NT this year. The Mean Green is shooting 73.7 percent from the stripe as a team, and is led by freshman point guard P.J. Hardwick's conference-high 82.1 percent clip. Jordan Williams isn't far behind in third with a mark of 81.3 percent.

 

NT got a pair of players back from injury this week, but is still far from full strength. Twenty two games into the season, NT's injuries have already accounted for 46 individual games missed. In fact, twice this season - including last Saturday's win at Florida Atlantic - NT has taken the court with just seven scholarship players.

 

This rash of injuries has forced NT's starters to take on the bulk of the scoring. In fact, North Texas' bench has accounted for just three points in the Mean Green's last three games combined. UALR held NT's bench scoreless for the first time this year. Over the last seven games, NT's bench has been outscored by its counterparts 150-27.

 

South Alabama Jaguars

South Alabama is on a three-game win streak for the first time this season. The team had won two in a row three times before the current run.

 

The Jaguars are 11-0 when leading or tied at halftime and 0-8 when trailing at the break.

 

USA has given up less than 60 points over three straight games for the first time since the end of the 1999-00 season. Opponents are scoring 57.0 ppg during the streak. FIU scored 22 points in the first half Sunday, the fewest by a USA opponent this season.

 

The Jags will be facing an Arkansas State defense that ranks second in the Sun Belt in scoring defense at 62.8 ppg. The Red Wolves are coming off a 63-38 win over Florida Atlantic, the second time ASU has allowed less than 40 points in a game this season (39 vs. ULM on Jan. 19). South Alabama shot a season-low 27.4 percent and scored 54 points against Arkansas State on Dec. 29. The 54 points are the second-fewest scored by USA this season.

 

USA rallied from a six-point deficit Sunday which is tied for the biggest second-half comeback by the team this season (Jan. 10 at ULL).

 

Augustine Rubit recorded his 11th double-double of the season and second in a row Sunday with game-high totals of 13 points and 12 rebounds. His 11 double-doubles are second-best in the conference and 11th in the nation. He also ranks second in the SBC in scoring (19.1 ppg). He had 20 points and 17 boards against ASU in December.

 

Rubit needs 10 rebounds to tie for 16th in Sun Belt history for a career (783). He leads the conference and is eighth in Division I at 10.9 per contest.

 

Dre Conner has 17 assists and five turnovers in his last three games, and has a 22-to-8 assist/turnover ratio since moving into the starting lineup on Jan. 10. He has a team-best 1.5 assist/turnover ratio on the season and ranks second on the squad with 40 helpers.

 

Barrington Stevens reached double-digit points Sunday for the second time this season and did so by converting all three attempts from behind the 3-point line. He started for the first time Jan. 5.

 

Mychal Ammons scored nine points vs. FIU, ending his streak of five games in double-figure points. The run was tied for the longest in his career. He is seventh in the SBC in rebounding (7.2).

 

Troy Trojans

The Trojans picked up a pair of wins last week to improve to 4-6 in Sun Belt play this season, just one half game behind Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic for fourth in the East Division. Troy will travel to WKU on Thursday, and host 3-8 ULL on Saturday.

 

The Trojans needed a come-from-behind effort against Arkansas State on Thursday, eventually winning 74-67 in overtime. Trailing in the final seconds, senior guard Emil Jones hit a highly-contest 3-pointer to force overtime, where Troy took over. The Trojan defense did not allow a field goal in the final six minutes of regulation and all of the overtime period, holding the Red Wolves to just 12 points from the line during that stretch.

 

Jones was needed for late game heroics again on Saturday. He hit his first field goal of the game with 1:13 to play in regulation, helping Troy regain the lead. When the game went into overtime, Jones took over, scoring eight points and dishing out one assist, propelling Troy to the 71-64 victory.

 

Troy has now scored in the 70's in back-to-back games for the first time this season, with both coming in overtime victories. Head coach Don Maestri currently sits just three wins shy of the 500-win plateau with 10 games remaining in the regular season.

 

WKU Hilltoppers

WKU dropped two road games last week against the top two teams in the Sun Belt Conference East Division, losing 65-57 at South Alabama on Thursday and dropping a 72-53 contest at Middle Tennessee Saturday afternoon. The loss at Middle Tennessee was WKU's sixth in the last seven games overall, and the Hilltoppers still hold a 92-36 advantage in the all-time series between the two rivals. WKU averaged 55.0 points per game last week and shot 37.8 percent as a team, and the Hilltoppers were outscored by an average of 13.5 points per contest. Kevin Kaspar and George Fant led WKU last week with an average of 9.5 points per game, and Brandon Harris contributed nearly six rebounds per game. The Hilltoppers return to E.A. Diddle Arena Thursday night to host Troy. WKU is in the middle of a stretch of five of seven games on the road.

 

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