Former NBA point guard and head coach Isiah Thomas brought his Florida International Panthers to the Murphy Center Saturday hoping to halt Middle Tennessee’s win streak at four.
While it may not have been the prettiest performance from the Raiders, they managed to come away with a fifth straight win as they downed FIU 80-68.
The early minutes of the game were a JT Sulton highlight reel. Sulton’s first basket came when trailing James Washington down the court, Washington dropped it off for Sulton who put it down with a powerful dunk.
Sulton was also the recipient of an alley-oop pass from Washington as Sulton ran the baseline in the half-court offense behind Raider senior Trevor Ottley who was set up near the free throw line.
FIU was able to hang around early in the game by knocking down three-point shots. The Panthers began the game by hitting three of their first five shots from behind the arc.
Middle shot the long ball well themselves in the first half, at the break the Raiders were 50 percent from three and 58.3 percent from the field overall.
The Blue Raiders out-rebounded their opponent 19 to seven in the first half and outscored FIU in the paint 20 to six. Sulton led all scorers with 11 points, adding five rebounds as well.
International was still in the mix at the half, down just 34-26 despite shooting only 38.9 percent. The reason was Middle Tennessee’s 12 turnovers and 13 fouls. Eight of FIU’s first half points came from the line.
“We rebounded the ball well,” Raider coach Kermit Davis said. “We should have, they’re a smaller team.”
The second half saw Jason Jones get going for Middle. Jones, who had only four points at the break, finished the game with 23 on nine of 14 shooting.
Turnover and foul troubles continued to linger for Middle in the second half, but the Raiders were able to draw and number of fouls themselves.
Middle did struggle to maintain a double-digit lead through much of the second half, building up a 17 point advantage at one point and having it cut back down to six.
“We got 80, which is good, but it didn’t seem like the game ever got into a great flow,” Davis said.
The Raiders finished the game out-rebounding their FIU 37-20 and scoring 12 more points in the painted area.
“I thought Middle Tennessee played a good game,” FIU coach Isiah Thomas said. “They kicked out tails on the board.”
Sulton and Ottley finished the game each one rebound shy of a double-double. Ottley finished with 10 points and nine boards while Sulton finished with 17 and nine.
“We came in off a big win against Western and I think everybody just wanted to keep the ball rolling,” Ottley said. “It didn’t come together quite like we wanted it, didn’t run quite as smooth, but we found a way to get it done.”
Middle has now won five in a row and seven of their last eight games. During the five-game streak coach Davis has not wore a tie.
“Coaches, like everybody else, need good players and good preparation, but besides that we’re all superstitious,” Davis said. “I’m going to stay on the run while it lasts. I hope I don’t have to put one on for a long time.”
The Raiders did not trail at any point in the game, making it back-to-back home games where Middle has not faced a defecit.