Middle Tennessee won its 12th consecutive game on Saturday, beating UALR 66-61 in Little Rock. The Blue Raiders’ rotation features five juniors and five seniors.
They’re a physically imposing bunch who appeared to intimidate UALR early in the game. But then something happened. UALR fought back.
Freshman Josh Hagins didn’t back down when confronted by Middle Tennessee’s Bruce Massey. UALR junior Will Neighbour was involved in a double technical foul with Middle Tennessee’s Marcos Knight.
Every time Middle Tennessee pushed, UALR pushed back.
Ultimately, it was too little too late. But we saw a fight from this UALR team that was absent on Thursday night when Arkansas State pushed the Trojans around Jonesboro for 40 minutes.
When UALR made the commitment to rebuild its roster with mostly freshmen following the 2011 NCAA Tournament, it was pretty clear this year would be one of inexperience. Give this group a full year with strength coach John Barron and they’ll start to look more like the physical specimens wearing the blue uniforms on Saturday night.
And next year, UALR may develop from the pushee to the pusher.
UALR sophomore guard Taggart Lockhart didn’t play on Saturday. He had a concussion and missed last week’s game at Louisiana-Monroe. He returned on Thursday but took another shot to the head and had to leave that game. His status going forward is not known.
STAT OF THE GAME
24-29: Virtually flawless free throw shooting by Middle Tennessee helped the Blue Raiders hold off UALR’s rally.
BTH KEYS REVISITED
Make it take it: Middle Tennessee is undefeated this season when it shoots a higher field goal percentage than its opponent. On Saturday, Middle Tennessee shot 40.8 percent to UALR’s 39.3 percent. Close wasn’t close enough. Grade: C.
Back that glass up: Middle Tennessee dominated rebounding with a 41-32 advantage. Grade: F.
Come out swinging: UALR needed a solid start. The Trojans weren’t bad defensively but they couldn’t even get a good look offensively in the first half. Grade: D.
21: UALR forced Middle Tennessee into 21 turnovers and held a 21-13 advantage in points off turnovers.
13-22: UALR’s free throw shooting, several of which were the front end of 1 and 1s.
25: UALR made just 6 of 24 first-half field goals for 25 percent.
Middle Tennessee was between an 8.5 and 9.5-point favorite. Those betting UALR were winners.
Everyone went with Middle Tennessee and everyone was a winner.
UALR heads to Florida and needs to win both if it has any hope of winning the Sun Belt’s West Division.