GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders continue their pursuit of the Conference USA title with a bout against the Marshall Thundering Herd at the Cam Henderson Center.
The Blue Raiders powered past Charlotte for a 71-49 victory in their last outing. The win was the eight in a row for Middle Tennessee, which is tied for first with Texas-El Paso in the C-USA standings with a 10-2 record. Coach Kermit Davis's team has outscored the opposition by an average of 10.4 ppg in conference play this season. Middle Tennessee has gone 18-2 in the month of February over the last three years, including 13 straight dating back to the 2011-12 season.
Marshall suffered its fourth loss in five games on Thursday as it dropped a 68-62 decision to UAB in Huntington. Coach Tom Herrion's team finished just 3- of-20 from 3-point range and was outrebounded, 51-41, by the Blazers. The Thundering Herd have been torched by the opposition throughout the season, allowing 73.4 ppg to rank second to last in the C-USA in scoring defense. They stepped up their play on the defensive end their last time out as the Blazers were held to 34.4 percent efficiency from the floor. Although Marshall is 7-6 at the Cam Henderson Center, it is 1-4 versus league foes at home.
This will be just the seventh meeting in history between Middle Tennessee and Marshall. The Blue Raiders downed the Thundering Herd, 86-78, in the opening round of the 2012 National Invitation Tournament in Murfreesboro to take a 4-2 all-time series lead.
In Middle Tennessee's win over the 49ers, senior forward Shawn Jones stood out with 17 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Neiko Hunter contributed 15 points and six boards for the Blue Raiders as they improved to 6-4 in true road tests. Kerry Hammonds added 12 points and four steals, while Tweety Knight handed out seven assists and also finished with four steals. Jones is the only Blue Raider to have started in all 27 games this season and paces the team with 15 ppg and 8.5 rpg. Hunter is MTSU's second option on the offensive end with 13.5 ppg and Hammonds is close behind at 12.8 ppg.
Marshall has received exceptional play out of its starting backcourt in recent weeks. Freshman point guard Kareem Canty and junior Chris Thomas accounted for 39 of the Herd's points along with 16 of MU's 22 made field goals in their win over Charlotte last weekend. The duo then combined for 39 points versus UAB at the Cam Henderson Center earlier this week. Ryan Taylor added 11 points against the Blazers, while MU's bench was held scoreless. In 20 of the team's 27 games this season, three or more members of the Herd have scored in double figures. Canty is usually included in that trio as he has been spectacular during his rookie campaign with team-leading averages of 16.3 ppg and 5.9 apg. Taylor (13.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Thomas (12.7 ppg) have both established themselves as key players for Herrion in their debut year also.
Middle Tennessee should have no trouble dispatching the Herd. The Blue Raiders stifled a much more potent Southern Miss squad last weekend and appear to be firing on all cylinders entering the Cam Henderson Center. MU's inexperience will reduce its chances of slowing down the red hot visitors.
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