Middle Tennessee looked for its first conference win Wednesday night when the 13-2 North Texas Mean Green were welcomed into the Murphy Center.
After trailing 9-1 early in the game, the Blue Raiders were able to regain the lead with 9:49 left in the first half, never looking back as they held their lead the rest of the game, going on to a 78-71 victory.
The Raiders dominated the painted area in the first half, outscoring North Texas 20 to eight down low and out-rebounding their opponent 25 to nine. Middle also shot nearly 20 percent higher from the field than the Mean Green in the first half.
Despite all of this, Middle Tennessee entered halftime leading the game by only 9 points.
“That’s the quality of their team,” Raider coach Kermit Davis said. “They’d gone to LSU and won by 20, they beat Texas Tech. We beat them here Jan. 30 last year and they hadn’t lost until they lost tonight in our league play.”
In the second half North Texas continuously challenged the Blue Raider lead, bringing the score with two or less five times with less than 13 minutes remaining in the game.
“When they would cut it to two I thought we did a good job of executing on (the offensive) end,” Davis said. “We ran good offense, we got the ball around the goal, we got fouled at opportune times. They’re a very, very good offensive team. We knew they were going to score. I just thought we executed really well. When they’d score we came back and answered in a really good way.”
The Blue Raiders were finally able to shut the door when forward Jason Jones drew a foul on a made shot. Jones missed the free throw, but the Raiders were able to maintain possession on a tie ball with the possession arrow favoring Middle.
Jones led the team in scoring with 16 despite starting the game on the bench.
“Jason Jones has been really sick so he didn’t start tonight,” Davis said. “He came off (the bench), had a lot of energy, great effort.”
Shawn Jones was another Raider who put up impressive numbers coming off the bench in the game for Middle.
“Shawn Jones, a freshman who we have a lot of high expectations for, it was great to see him get going,” Davis said. “He was really powerful around the goal.”
Middle Tennessee will look to make this game the beginning of a conference winning streak Saturday when they play Louisiana-Lafayette on the road. The Raiders will play at home next Wednesday at 8 p.m. against Florida Atlantic.