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GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will try to continue their dominating run atop the Sun Belt Conference East Division standings, as they entertain the Florida Atlantic Owls at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro.
Though Florida Atlantic has struggled to an 11-15 overall record, it has found marginal success in the Sun Belt, winning seven of its 13 conference games, which is good for second place in the East Division. After winning back-to- back games last week, the Owls dropped a 64-57 decision to Western Kentucky on Thursday.
Middle Tennessee has been the Sun Belt's best team so far at 23-4 overall and 12-1 in conference. The team has already clinched first place in the East Division. The Blue Raiders followed-up a 12-game win streak by losing two of three a few weeks back, but have since answered by winning back-to-back bouts, the most recent of which being a 68-60 verdict against West Division leaders Arkansas-Little Rock last Saturday.
Middle Tennessee has doubled up Florida Atlantic in the all-time series, 8-4. After the Owls took both matchups during the 2010-11 season, the Blue Raiders won, 67-54, on January 14 in the first meeting this year.
FAU has both a below-average offense (65.6 ppg) and a sub par defense (67 ppg), and it doesn't stand out on either the positive or negative side of any major statistical category. The Owls showed their shooting inconsistencies in Thursday's game, connecting on a mere 38.5 percent of their field goal attempts and 3-of-19 of their three-point tries. Jordan McCoy shot 6-of-8 from the floor for 14 points as the team's top performer in the loss. Greg Gantt is the only Owl to average double digits in scoring on the season, ranking fifth in the Sun Belt with 13.9 ppg. Raymond Taylor nets 9.7 ppg and dishes out 4.9 apg, the latter stat good for second in the conference. Ball control is one of Florida Atlantic's strengths, as it sports a turnover margin of +1.69 and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.0.
Across the board, Middle Tennessee has been the conference's best team, ranking first in scoring offense (71.7 ppg) and field goal percentage (.493) as well as scoring defense (61.1 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (.388). Those trends continued against UALR last Saturday, as the Blue Raiders shot an astounding 63.4 percent from the field while holding the Trojans to just 60 points. LaRon Dendy continued his stellar season in the victory, shooting 9-of-11 from the floor for 22 points while also tallying six rebounds and two blocks. Dendy is one of the league's top players, ranking second in scoring (14.7 ppg), third in rebounding (7.0 rpg), seventh in field goal percentage (.530) and fifth in blocks (1.7 bpg). Marcos Knight (12.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and JT Sulton (10.8 ppg, 5.7) provide ample support. Overall, Middle Tennessee has six player in its rotation that shoot at least 48 percent from the floor.
Even though Middle Tennessee has clinched the top seed heading into the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, don't expect the Blue Raiders to let off the throttle the rest of the way.
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