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Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball news and notes

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With 22 wins, Middle Tennessee has already clinched a winning season. This is the ninth winning season under head coach Kermit Davis and fifth in the last six years for MT. MT has also cracked double-figure wins for six straight seasons. The Blue Raiders have won double-digit games at home in each of the past six years and nine of 11 seasons under Davis. MT now has back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons. The Blue Raiders have also matched the program record for league wins with 14, which they set last season.

 

With 22 wins, the Blue Raiders have the second-most victories in college basketball, trailing only Gonzaga with 23. MT's 11-game winning streak is currently tied for fifth nationally and is the fifth-longest in program history, while the 26-game home winning streak is tied for third in the country.

 

Kermit Davis is on the verge of becoming the Sun Belt's all-time winningest coach. He is currently tied with former South Alabama head coach Ronnie Arrow with 112 league victories as the all-time winningest coaches.

 

UALR (15-10, 9-5 SBC) regained sole possession of first place in the SBC's West Division with a 70-60 win at ULM on Thursday. The Trojans finished the night shooting 49.0 percent from the field (24-of-49) and 60.0 percent from three-point range (6-of-10). UALR made up for 15 turnovers by playing to a +9 advantage on the boards (34-to-25) and holding a 10-to-1 edge in second-chance points. The Trojans added a 17-to-8 edge in points off turnovers.

 

ASU registered its 15th victory (15-9 overall record) of this season with Saturday's (2/9) triumph at Western Kentucky, exceeding the 2011-12 team's 14-wins total (14-20 overall). The Red Wolves are two victories away from equaling the program's most single-season wins output of 17 during current A-State head coach John Brady's tenure. ASU posted a 17-14 overall ledger for the 2009-10 campaign and then produced a 17-15 mark in the 2010-11 season.

 

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 averaged 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in leading the Jaguars to an undefeated week… He shot 46.2 percent from the floor over the two games, 75.0 percent from the free throw line and blocked two shots… Rubit poured in a team-high 18 points against Florida Atlantic, including the team's final seven points of the night, and hit the game-winning shot with 35.2 seconds left in a 72-71 win… Rubit recorded his 11th game with 20 or more points vs. Troy with 21 and posted his 13th double-double of the year with 12 rebounds… Rubit went 11-for-15 from the line vs. the Trojans, converting his last 10 attempts… He also converted 5 of 10 from the floor… On Saturday, Rubit moved into 14th place in Sun Belt history for career rebounds Saturday (820) and 10th at South Alabama in career scoring (1,245).

 

Upcoming Games

 

2/14/2013

* WKU at Florida Atlantic - 6:00 PM (HSSN/ESPN3)

* UALR at Arkansas State - 7:05 PM

* UL-Lafayette at South Alabama - 7:05 PM

* FIU at Troy - 7:30 PM

* North Texas at UL-Monroe - 7:30 PM

 

2/16/2013

* Arkansas State at UL-Monroe - 4:00 PM

* FIU at WKU - 6:30 PM

* Middle Tennessee at UALR - 7:00 PM

* Florida Atlantic at UL-Lafayette - 7:15 PM

* North Texas at Troy - 7:30 PM (Sun Belt Network)

 

2/21/2013

* UALR at FIU - 6:30 PM

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

* South Alabama at Middle Tennessee - 7:00 PM (ESPN3)

* Troy at UL-Lafayette - 7:00 PM

* Florida Atlantic at North Texas - 7:00 PM

 

Recent Results

 

2/7/2013

* FIU 84, Florida Atlantic 65

* Middle Tennessee 73, Arkansas State 60

* Western Kentucky 70, North Texas 59

* South Alabama 65, Troy 62

* UALR 70, Louisiana-Monroe 60

 

2/9/2013

* Middle Tennessee 93, Troy 41

* Arkansas State 67, Western Kentucky 49

* North Texas 77, FIU 67

* South Alabama 72, Florida Atlantic 71 (Sun Belt Network)

 

2/10/2013

* Louisiana-Lafayette 90, Louisiana-Monroe 66

 

Team News and Notes

 

UALR Trojans

UALR (15-10, 9-5 SBC) regained sole possession of first place in the SBC's West Division with a 70-60 win at ULM on Thursday. The Trojans finished the night shooting 49.0 percent from the field (24-of-49) and 60.0 percent from three-point range (6-of-10). UALR made up for 15 turnovers by playing to a +9 advantage on the boards (34-to-25) and holding a 10-to-1 edge in second-chance points. The Trojans added a 17-to-8 edge in points off turnovers.

 

The win gave UALR 15 victories on the year, matching its season total from 2011-12.

 

Freshman Josh Hagins led the Trojans in scoring and reached double figures for the eighth time in nine games with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Sophomore Gus Leeper came off the bench to score a career-best 12 points to go along with six rebounds. Junior Will Neighbour contributed 11 points and six boards to give the Trojans three players in double figures.

 

After dropping its first seven true road games of the season, UALR has now won three-straight games away from the Jack Stephens Center. The Trojans are just a game under .500 (3-4) in road games since the start of Sun Belt play. Over its three-game road winning streak, UALR is holding opponents to 36.9 percent shooting from the field. The Trojans are shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 40.5 percent from long range over the same span.

 

Another reason for UALR's improved road play has been the emergence of Hagins, who is averaging 10.1 points, 3.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds in Sun Belt play. Hagins is shooting 51.5 percent from the floor, 39.5 percent from three-point range and 82.1 percent from the foul line in league games this season.

 

In UALR's last three road wins, Hagins is averaging 13.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 60.9 percent from the floor, 50.0 percent from three-point range and 85.7 percent from the foul line. The Bossier City, La.-native has just four turnovers in the Trojans' last three road wins.

 

Neighbour continues to lead UALR in scoring (11.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.0 rpg) on the season, and those numbers increase to 11.9 ppg and 8.0 rpg in conference play. Neighbour has now led UALR or finished tied for the team lead in rebounding in 11 of the Trojans' last 12 games.

 

This week, UALR travels to in-state rival Arkansas State on Thursday before hosting Middle Tennessee at the Jack Stephens Center on Saturday. The winner of Thursday's game will have sole possession of first place in the SBC West Division, as UALR currently holds a half-game lead over the Red Wolves. Middle Tennessee, who is 14-1 on the season in conference play, dealt UALR an 82-50 loss in Murfreesboro on Jan. 17.

 

Arkansas State Red Wolves

Senior forward Brandon Peterson became the eighth A-State player to reach the 800 career mark in rebounds with a team-high eight boards at Middle Tennessee last Thursday (2/7). Peterson has accumulated 815 career rebounds in 120 games to date for a 6.8 rebounds per contest average. The ASU frontcourt player is now six boards shy of moving into a seventh-place tie with John Tate (1985-89; 821 career rebounds).

 

Senior guard Trey Finn moved into 19th place among ASU's career points leaders with a season and game-high 23 points at Western Kentucky last Saturday (2/9). Finn currently has compiled 1,083 career points in 114 contests and is two points shy of tying Fred Shepherd's (1989-93) 1,085 career points total.

 

Trey Finn has recorded double-digit points in eight of his last 10 appearances, which includes four of the last five contests. Finn is averaging 13.4 points an outing (134 points) in the 10-game span, including 14.0 points per game (70 points) in his last five encounters.

 

ASU registered its 15th victory (15-9 overall record) of this season with Saturday's (2/9) triumph at Western Kentucky, exceeding the 2011-12 team's 14-wins total (14-20 overall). The Red Wolves are two victories away from equaling the program's most single-season wins output of 17 during current A-State head coach John Brady's tenure. ASU posted a 17-14 overall ledger for the 2009-10 campaign and then produced a 17-15 mark in the 2010-11 season.

 

Head coach John Brady now ranks sixth among ASU's all-time coaches in victories with 76 total

following last Saturday's (2/9) decision at Western Kentucky. Brady has presently compiled a 76-75 (.503 win pct.) in five seasons (2008-13) at Arkansas State, which includes a 53-17 home mark. The 2009-10 Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year Award recipient surpassed Marvin Speight (1963-69; 75 wins) and is 15 victories away from tying John Rose (1969-76; 91 wins) for fifth place.

 

Arkansas State snapped an 11-game road losing skid in its series against Western Kentucky with last Saturday's (2/9) 67-49 win. The Red Wolves are presently 2-18 all-time in away encounters versus the Hilltoppers.

 

ASU's top two scorers this February, Trey Finn (13.7 ppg.) and freshman guard Cameron Golden (12.7 ppg.) have combined to account for 39.1% (79-202) of the Red Wolves' points production for the month. Finn has tallied a team-most 41 points in three outings while Golden has compiled 38 points in three games.

 

Florida Atlantic Owls

Greg Gantt is now 11th in SBC history with 1,844 points. He is on pace to finish in the top-5 all-time in conference history. He is now 27 points away from passing Paul Graham III for the school's single season scoring record and has a chance to become the first player in school history to score 2,000 career points. Stefan Moody is leading the team with an 83.8 free throw shooting percentage. He has made 16 free throw attempts in a row dating back to the ULM game January 31. Jordan McCoy had arguably the best week of his career, scoring a career 19 points against FIU on Thursday and pulling down a career high 12 rebounds against South Alabama on Saturday. In Thursday's game he became just the sixth member of FAU's 500 rebound club and on Saturday he passed Mike Bell for 5th place in school history in career rebounds. He is 8th all-time in career defensive rebounds and 3rd all time in career offensive rebounds. Thursday's game against Western Kentucky will be shown on ESPN3.com. The Owls held off a furious Hilltopper rally to win at E.A. Diddle for the second time in three years. With a win in Thursday's game, FAU would complete the season sweep of WKU, which the only Eastern Division team they have never completed that feat against.

 

FIU Panthers

The FIU men's basketball team (13-11, 8-7 SBC) split a pair of conference matches this past week, defeating Florida Atlantic, 84-65, and falling to North Texas, 77-67. The 1-1 week moved the team's record 13-11, giving the Panthers' the 13-or-more victories for the first time since the 2008-2009 season. The eight conference victories are also the second-most for FIU since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 1998-1999.

 

The Panthers began the week with a 19-point rout of rival Florida Atlantic, marking the team's second-straight victory of 19-or-more points versus the Owls. Four Panthers reached double-figures in scoring versus the Owls, including junior Malik Smith who poured in 19 points, shooting 6-of-14 from the floor. Also reaching double-digits in scoring were junior Tymell Murphy (13 pts.), freshman Jerome Frink (12 pts.) and senior Cameron Bell (10 pts.).

 

Two days later FIU made a trip to Denton, Texas. The Panthers could not overcome a hot-shooting performance by the Mean Green (75.0 percent from the floor), resulting in a 10-point loss. The result snapped a two-game winning streak for FIU and extended the team's road losing skid to two games. Murphy posted his seventh, 20-point outing with 23 points versus North Texas on 10-of-12 shooting.

 

FIU enters this week's action averaging 69.9 points-per-game (No. 3 in the conference) on 42.6 percent shooting from the floor (No. 4 in the conference). The Panthers are converting 34.1 percent from 3-point range (No. 6 in the conference) and 69.9 percent of its shots from the free-throw line (No. 4 in the conference). FIU leads the conference and rank No. 11 in the nation in steals, averaging 9.8 steals-per-game. Over the past four games, FIU has totaled 56 takeaways (14.0 spg).

 

Leading the Panthers in scoring is junior Tymell Murphy, who comes into this week's action averaging 15.5 points-per-game (No. 4 in the conference). The Brooklyn, N.Y., native is No. 5 in the conference in rebounding, averaging 7.4 boards-per-game and leads the league in shooting percentage (60.1 percent). Ranked in the top 10 in the nation in shooting percentage, Murphy has totaled 158 buckets this season. Junior Malik Smith is averaging 14.2 points-per-game (No. 9 in the conference). The Boston, Mass., native leads the conference in 3-point field goals made (2.9 per game) and ranks No.5 in the conference in free-throw percentage. Freshman Jerome Frink comes into this week's action, averaging 10.0 points-per-game (No. 27 in the conference) and 6.8 rebounds-per-game (No. 7 in the conference). Sophomore Deric Hill in No. 3 in the conference in steals, averaging 2.2 spg and is No. 9 in the league in assists, averaging 2.8 apg. Redshirt sophomore Marco Procher Jimenez ranks No. 2 in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage (.429) while senior Cameron Bell ranks No. 6 in the SBC in free-throw percentage (.773)

 

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

With wins in two of its last three games and finally healthy after almost a month of playing short-handed, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns basketball team takes to the road, traveling to Mobile, Ala. to face South Alabama on Thursday in the Mitchell Center.

 

With three weeks and six games to go in the regular season, Louisiana (9-16) is solidly in third place in the Sun Belt west division with a 5-9 record. The Cajuns begin the week with a 5-1 record against the four west division foes, handing both UALR (4-1) and Arkansas State (3-1) there only losses against the division. The Cajuns final two divisional games come on the road in the final week when UL plays at UALR on Feb. 28 and at ULM on March 2. At the other end of the spectrum, the Cajuns are 0-8 against the east division

 

The Cajuns have played their best at home this year, winning six of their eight home games by 10 points or more and owning a 14.9 margin of victory in the eight wins. Included in those totals are back-to-back home wins of 31 points over North Texas (105-74 on Jan. 31) and 24 points over ULM (90-66 on Feb. 10), the first consecutive wins by 20 points or more against league opponents since defeating FIU (83-63 on 1/23/10) and UALR (77-51, 2/4/10) three seasons ago.

 

An 11-point, 11-rebound effort against ULM on Sunday gave redshirt freshman forward Shawn Long his 14th double-double in 25 games, good for fourth nationally. Towson's Jerrelle Benimon and Bucknell's Mike Muscala hare the national lead with 17 double-doubles while Notre Dame's Jack Cooley is third with 16. Long has had a double-double in seven of the last eight games, giving him eight double-doubles in 15 league games this season.

 

With 10 three-pointers against ULM on Sunday, Louisiana took over the Sun Belt lead, averaging 7.08 treys per game (177 total). FIU is second with 168 treys in 24 games (7.00 treys per game). The Cajuns made 74 treys in the first 12 games (6.2/game) with no double-figure games but have found their shooting touch of late, averaging 7.9 three-pointers (103 total) over the last 13 contests with five double-figure games. Louisiana has made 177 treys in 25 games this year to surpass the 172 three-pointers it made in 32 games last season.

 

A look at the most recent Sun Belt statistics shows that the trio of Shawn Long (15.8 ppg), Elfrid Payton (15.2) and Bryant Mbamalu (14.8) rank third, sixth and seventh, respectively in league scoring. FIU and Florida Atlantic are the only other teams that have two players in the top 10 in scoring, but neither have a third player ranked in the top 25. In Sun Belt games only, Mbamalu (17.7), Payton (16.6) and Long (15.4) rank third, sixth and seventh, respectively.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

ULM (3-17, 2-12 SBC) dropped a pair of games last week, losing at home to UALR (70-60) on Thursday and capping the week with a loss at UL-Lafayette (90-66) on Sunday. The Warhawks have now lost nine straight with their last victory coming Jan. 5 at North Texas (81-68).

 

Junior Amos Olatayo leads the team and ranks fifth in the Sun Belt in scoring with 15.4 points per game. He also ranks second on the team in rebounding with 5.6 boards per game. Olatayo is shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 59.7 percent from the free-throw line on the season.

 

Junior Jayon James averages 10.3 points and ranks second in the Sun Belt in assists (5.3 apg), ninth in rebounding (6.6 rpg) and 12th in steals (1.5 spg). James also ranks third in the conference with an average of 34.8 minutes per game. James is just 20 assists shy of cracking the top 10 on ULM's single-season records list.

 

Sophomore Trent Mackey converted six 3-pointers against ULL to bring his season total to 52 with at least seven games remaining. Mackey ranks second on the team in scoring with 10.8 points per game. He ranks third in the Sun Belt in 3-point percentage (.423) and third in 3-point makes per game (2.6). Mackey has scored at least 20 points three times this season and twice in his last three games.

 

The Warhawks have a pair of home games this week beginning with North Texas on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ULM concludes the week by hosting Arkansas State on Saturday at 4 p.m.

 

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

With 22 wins, the Blue Raiders have already clinched a winning season. This is the ninth winning season under Davis and fifth in the last six years for MT. MT has also cracked double-figure wins for six straight seasons. The Blue Raiders have won double-digit games at home in each of the past six years and nine of 11 seasons under Davis. MT now has back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons. The Blue Raiders have also matched the program record for league wins with 14, which they set last season.

 

With 22 wins, the Blue Raiders have the second-most victories in college basketball, trailing only Gonzaga with 23. MT's 11-game winning streak is currently tied for fifth nationally and is the fifth-longest in program history, while the 26-game home winning streak is tied for third in the country.

 

Kermit Davis is on the verge of becoming the Sun Belt's all-time winningest coach. He is currently tied with former South Alabama head coach Ronnie Arrow with 112 league victories as the all-time winningest coaches.

 

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

NCAA RPI: 32

ESPN Daily RPI: 29

ESPN BPI: 46

Pomeroy: 26

Sagarin: 52

ESPN Mid-Major Poll: 3

Bleacher Report Mid-Major: 3

 

MT has continued to defend its home court this season after finishing 15-2 in Murphy Center last year. The Blue Raiders are 14-0 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 26 straight regular-season home victories for the Blue Raiders. MT is 28-2 over the last two seasons in Murphy Center.

 

MT's 52-point win over Troy was the largest margin of victory in a Sun Belt game in program history. It nearly matched the Sun Belt's overall record of a 56-point winning margin.

 

North Texas Mean Green

North Texas earned a split in a weekend homestand against Western Kentucky (L 70-59) and FIU (W 77-67) thanks to one of the greatest shooting performances in NCAA history, and a trio of players that were nearly unstoppable all weekend.

 

Against FIU, the Mean Green was 24-of-32 from the floor, which is good for a 75.0 shooting percentage. That mark not only shattered the 18-year old school record of 67.4 percent, but also took down the record for the best ever shooting night in a Sun Belt game. It was the best shooting percentage by any team in the NCAA this year. In fact, only one game (Creighton - 77.5 percent vs. Southern Illinois on Feb. 14, 2012) has topped it over the last five seasons, and the outing just missed the list of the top 25 shooting performances in NCAA history. The NCAA record for was set by Maryland at 83.3 percent against South Carolina in Jan. of 1971.

 

The Mean Green trio of Roger Franklin (16.5), Alzee Williams (16) and Jordan Williams (15) all averaged at least 15 points per game against WKU and FIU last weekend. Franklin was a team-best 13-of-14 from the free throw line, while Alzee Williams shot 76.5 percent from the floor. Jordan Williams was a smoking 4-of-10 from 3-point.

 

The win over FIU didn't move North Texas out of the No. 10 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament bracket, but it did help put the Mean Green in position to make a move. NT is now just 1.5 games behind Louisiana-Lafayette and Troy, and two games behind Florida Atlantic. If the tournament started today, NT would face No. 7 Florida Atlantic.

 

South Alabama Jaguars

USA's 11-4 Sun Belt record is the program's best after 15 games since starting 13-2 in 2007-08. The Jaguars' 11 conference wins are also the most since the 2007-08 campaign.

 

South Alabama has won six of its last seven games, its best seven-game run of the season. On Thursday, the Jags will try for its first four-game win streak of the year.

 

Two of the last three games in the series with Louisiana at Lafayette have gone into overtime, including the first meeting this season—a 91-89 South Alabama win—that went two extra periods. It was the first time the two schools played in a double OT contest.

 

USA has made 38 of its last 40 free throws over the last two games. The team made its last 20 free throws last Thursday vs. Troy—after starting 4-for-13—and went 18-for-20 from the stripe Saturday against Florida Atlantic. At one point the Jags made 30 in a row.

 

FAU shot 45.3 percent from the floor Saturday, the highest by a USA opponent since ULM converted 47.7 percent on Jan. 17. The Owls' 3-point percentage of 38.5 was the highest for a Jag opponent since ULL's 35.3 a week earlier and the first time South Alabama allowed over 30 percent from distance over the last seven games.

 

In conference games, the Jaguars rank second in both field percentage defense (40.2%) and 3-point percentage defense (29.7%).

 

Javier Carter has rejected at least three shots in three of his last four games and has eight in his last two games combined.

 

Antoine Allen had 19 points—two shy of his career high—and pulled down a career-best nine rebounds against the Cajuns' the last time they met in January.

 

Augustine Rubit led South Alabama in scoring (18 points) for the ninth straight game Saturday, but was held to just five rebounds, his lowest total since grabbing four in the third game of the season. He had totaled nine or more boards in 19 straight contests.

 

Despite the low total, Rubit moved into 14th in Sun Belt history in career rebounds (820), and his scoring output moved him into USA's top 10 for career scoring (1,245).

 

Troy Trojans

The Trojans picked up a pair of losses last week, dropping a heart-breaker at South Alabama on Thursday and falling at Middle Tennessee on Saturday. Troy is now 5-9 in conference play, tied with Louisiana-Lafayette for the eighth seed in the upcoming Sun Belt Conference Tournament. The Trojans will look to bounce back against FIU and North Texas this week.

 

Emil Jones was the lone bright spot for Troy last week, averaging 19.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He scored a career-high 23 points at South Alabama, helping keep the Trojans alive until the final buzzer. He has shot at least 50 percent from the field in seven of the last ten games and is averaging 14.5 points per game over that span.

 

WKU Hilltoppers

With six games remaining in the regular season schedule, WKU heads to Florida for two games this week beginning Thursday night at Florida Atlantic. WKU has won both games in Florida in four of the six seasons since Florida Atlantic joined the conference, and WKU sits three-and-a-half games out of second place in the east division entering games this week. WKU snapped a six-game road losing streak last Thursday at North Texas but dropped a 67-49 decision at home to Arkansas State on Saturday. WKU was led by T.J. Price's 21 points in the Arkansas State game, and the win was the Red Wolves' first in Bowling Green in the last 11 tries dating back to the 1997-98 season. After the games in Florida, WKU returns home to face ULM next Thursday and heads to Louisiana-Lafayette next Saturday.

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