Middle Tennessee completes historic home Sun Belt dominance

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Middle Tennessee finished off its sixth unbeaten Sun Belt home slate in the last seven years, improving its record at the historic Murphy Center to 61-1 during the period, with a 65-41 victory over Florida Atlantic Saturday afternoon on Senior Day. The Blue Raiders remained the lone unbeaten in conference action this season and extending their overall win streak to 16, tying for third in program history and currently the third best nationally.

Middle Tennessee (22-5, 14-0 SBC) enters the final week of the regular season already having secured the program’s fourth-straight East Division title and No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament. Saturday’s triumph marked the 12th in 13 tries against the Owls in school history and was the sixth-straight in the series.

Junior Icelyn Elie paced the Blue Raiders with her second-straight double-double with 13 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. It marks her ninth double-double of the campaign and 12th of her career.

Classmate Kortni Jones led all players in scoring with 21 points, including four 3-pointers, to move within one of the single-season Sun Belt record. She also stands one attempt shy of the single-season conference mark after tossing up 10 Saturday.

Sophomore Ebony Rowe added 13 points and eight rebounds, all on the offensive glass, while swiping a team-best four steals.

Florida Atlantic (14-11, 9-5 SBC) was led by 10 points from Chenise Miller, the lone Owl in double figures, while Takia Brooks hauled down a team-best eight boards.

Four-straight Middle Tennessee layups allowed the Blue Raiders to race out to an 8-2 advantage during the opening six minutes. However, Kimberly Smith would answer with five-straight points for FAU and a pair of Teri Stamps free throws capped a 7-0 spurt and provided the visitors with their final lead, 9-8, with 12:39 to play in the first half.

Jones and sophomore Laken Leonard responded with consecutive triples in the next minute-and-a-half, igniting a 15-2 spurt entering the final five minutes of the period, as Middle Tennessee built a 23-11 cushion on an Elie layup at the 5:04 mark.

Smith ended the drought with another 3-pointer at 4:26, bringing the margin to single digits and a Latavia Dempsey jumper just under a minute later closed the gap to eight, 24-16. However, six-straight Blue Raider points closed the half, including a triple from KeKe Stewart with 29 seconds to play, sent MT into the break ahead, 30-16.

A lull in scoring marred the early portions of the second half and neither team was able to put points in their respective column until Vontrice Dennis netted a layup for the Owls at 16:41. She would later add a free throw, helping Florida Atlantic to slice the deficit to 10, 33-23, with 14:09 remaining.

However, Jones would tally the next seven Middle Tennessee points, followed by a Leonard trey and four-straight from Elie to push the margin to as high as 20, 47-27. FAU would chip away and trim the deficit to 14, 49-35, behind an 8-2 run, but the Blue Raiders countered with eight-straight points of their own, all from Rowe and Jones, to stretch the margin to 22, 57-35, with 4:52 left.

The two teams would trade baskets through the final minutes with Elie providing the final five Middle Tennessee points, including a 3-pointer at the 1:34 mark.

Saturday’s game also marked the final home contest in the career of senior Molly McFadden. McFadden played five minutes and grabbed a defensive rebound.

The Blue Raiders return to action when they head to Monroe, La., for a 5:30 p.m. Thursday tip against the ULM Warhawks. It will be the first of two road games for Middle Tennessee to close the regular season.

Dick Palmer will call all the action on the Blue Raider Network of WMOT (89.5 FM) and WGNS (1450 AM, 100.5 FM, 101.9 FM).

In addition, 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament booklets are on sale at the Middle Tennessee athletic ticket office. Cost per booklet is $83 and includes a ticket to all eight sessions of the Sun Belt Championships, March 4-6, in Hot Springs, Ark. Fans can purchase booklets by calling 1-888-YES-MTSU or visiting goblueraiders.com.
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