Raymond Cintron shoots during the Blue Raiders win on Monday, Dec. 31.
In their final college basketball game of 2012, the Blue Raider made it 20 home wins in a row, beating Sun Belt Conference rival, North Texas, with a score of 75-57 on Monday night at Murphy Center. They finish out 2012 without losing a game at home.
“It was never a goal, it just happened naturally,” Blue Raider junior forward Shaun Jones said after the game. “We just want to take care of our home court, and protect the house.”
It was a battle between the two preseason divisional favorites in the SBC.
UNT came in as the favorite to win the SBC Western Division, while the MTSU was picked to repeat in the SBC East. However, the Mean Green started the season slow, going 0-9 in road games, and 0-3 in the league. The Blue Raiders have lived up to expectations starting 3-0 in the conference. They have not lost a regular season home game since Nov. 2011.
MTSU’s defense faced a challenge against one of the top players in the nation, UNT sophomore forward Tony Mitchell. Most experts believe he will be a high pick in next year’s NBA draft. A total of six NBA scouts made the trip to Murfreesboro to watch him in action.
The Blue Raiders jumped out to a 37-24 advantage in the first half, in which they shot 51.9 percent from the floor. MTSU held UNT to only 18.5 percent shooting from the field. Mitchell was zero-for-six from the field, and only scored three points, all from the foul line.
However, UNT went on a 12-0 run, which began at the end of the opening half and carried over to the start of the second, including Mitchell’s first two field goals of the game. However, the Blue Raiders answered with a basket by junior forward Neiko Hunter and senior guard Bruce Massey, and a three-pointer by senior guard Raymond Cintron with 15:56 left in the game.
“We just got to play within our identity, and we got a couple of stops on defense,” Cintron said after the game.
Mitchell finished 13 points and 11 rebounds in the loss, but was only 4-for-12 shooting from the field.
“We knew we could not shut him down, but we were able to throw several players at him,” MTSU head coach Kermit Davis said after the game.
Hunter and Jones handled most of the defensive assignment on Mitchell. Except for the run early in the second half, Jones believed the Blue Raiders handled the challenge of guarding Mitchell pretty good.
UNT was able to cut the Blue Raider advantage to eight, 46-38 with 14:39 left, but MTSU answered with a 10-0 run of its own, thanks in part to a couple of baskets by Hunter. Also during that same time frame, junior guard, and former Siegel star, Kerry Hammonds drew a charge and his teammates caused UNT to commit a 24-second violation with 10:27 remaining the game.
“I thought in the second half, we showed a lot of character,” Davis said. “We knew they were going to make a run, but we started to guard them better.”
The Mean Green has one of the best point guards in country, in terms of committing few mistakes with the ball. UNT junior guard, Alzee Williams is second in the nation in turnover margin, with 1.9 assists to turnover radio, and he averages a turnover every 42.9 minutes.
However, Williams was missing his backcourt mate, sophomore guard Chris Jones, who injured his ankle in the loss to Western Kentucky on Dec. 29. According to the Denton Record –Chronicle, Jones missed practice on Sunday, and did not play against the Blue Raiders. He was leading the SBC in assists per game with five. So, Williams had to move to the point to replace Jones.
Williams only had two turnovers, and dished out five assists. However, the Mean Green only shot 33 percent from the field.
The Blue Raiders improve to 11-3, 3-0 SBC, while the Mean Green drop to 5-9, 0-3. MTSU opens up 2013 at Arkansas State today with a 7:05 tipoff.