GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders try to bounce back from a stunning loss in the opening round of the Dr. Pepper Classic, as they face off for the first time ever against the Antelopes of Grand Canyon this afternoon.
Against a Maine program which began the tournament with just one win in 10 games, that coming against Fisher College, the Blue Raiders perhaps took the Black Bears a bit too lightly and ended up on the wrong side of an 89-85 overtime decision yesterday. The loss was the second in a row and the third in four games for a Middle Tennessee group which last landed in the win column on Dec. 17 with a 102-52 pounding of Tennessee Temple.
As for the Antelopes, one of the newest additions to the Western Athletic Conference, they saw their road record drop to 0-6 on the campaign as they suffered a 69-64 setback versus host Chattanooga on Sunday. The defeat was the fourth straight for a program that will be kicking off conference play on Jan. 2 versus Texas-Pan American back at home.
Shawn Jones played a monster game for the Blue Raiders against Maine, delivering not only 16 points but also a massive 20 rebounds, but even that was not enough to take down the Black Bears on Sunday. Neiko Hunter actually led the way in scoring with 20 points, adding seven rebounds of his own, followed by Jaqawn Raymond with 18 points, while Kerry Hammonds and Reggie Upshaw produced 12 and 10 points, respectively. The team produced a 52-35 rebounding advantage, but that did not make up for a mere 5-of-25 shooting performance behind the 3-point line or an embarrassing 16-of-29 at the charity stripe.
As one of three players to have started every game for the Blue Raiders, Jones leads the group in both scoring and rebounding with averages of 13.6 points and 8.6 boards, respectively. A 60.7 percent shooter from the field, Jones could stand to put in some extra practice at the free-throw line where he has converted only 64.8 percent. Then again, he is not the only one letting the team down in that department as Hunter (13.3 ppg) is also lacking accuracy with just 65.5 percent shooting for a team that comes in at 66.3 percent overall.
Even though the Antelopes shot just 36.4 percent from the field, including 5- of-25 behind the 3-point line, the team still put a scare into Chattanooga on Sunday before falling in the five-point decision. Killian Larson put together a solid effort with his 22 points and 13 rebounds, while Daniel Alexander had a double-double of his own with 12 points and 10 boards, adding five assists in the setback. Jerome Garrison contributed another 13 points and four dishes for a team that used only two players off the bench who combined for seven points.
For the time being at least, the 'Lopes are missing a crucial piece of their puzzle with Demetrius Walker (16.9 ppg) being suspended for disciplinary reasons. With Walker out of the lineup, that leaves Larson as the top scoring threat for Grand Canyon with his 15.3 ppg, not to mention having pulled down 11.5 rpg to become one of only a few players in the nation to be averaging a double-double entering the week. Alexander (14.8 ppg) and Garrison (12.0 ppg) are also clutch contributors on offense as this team gets ready for conference play at the Division I level.
Assume that Middle Tennessee will want to come away with at least one win in this tournament and will do practically anything to get it today. Then add the fact that the Antelopes don't have their leading scorer and this has all the makings of a Blue Raiders win.
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