At this point in the season, the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders are going to get everyone’s best shot in the Sun Belt Conference. The odds-on favorite to win the league’s automatic bid heads to Arkansas-Little Rock to take on the Trojans on Saturday night, a Trojans squad they trampled by 32 points a month ago.
MTSU comes in looking to make it 12 straight wins, while the Trojans look bounce back following a blowout loss at in-state rival Arkansas State, a loss that dropped them from the top spot in the Sun Belt’s West Division.
In the first meeting, the Blue Raiders used a 16-3 run heading into halftime to separate themselves for a 36-17 lead at intermission. The second half saw their lead fluctuate between 20 and 33 points, before cruising to an 82-50 win. It was UALR’s lowest scoring output of the season.
The Blue Raiders are on a roll that seemingly cannot be stopped by any team in the Sun Belt, but this could be a trap game for them. A game against an opponent that showed little to no resistance the first time they met with the 12-4 South Alabama Jaguars on deck.
Head coach Kermit Davis knows the importance of winning every time out. “It is amazing that one loss can undo several months of work,” Davis said in an interview with The Tennessean. “That’s the situation.” And it’s true. A loss at this juncture of the season can be crippling for an at-large hopeful like the Blue Raiders.
For UALR, it’s a different story. They will most certainly not be considered for an at-large bid come tournament time, so they need some momentum heading into the postseason. A win in this one would certainly be a good start. The Trojans are 11-2 at the Jack Stevens Center this year, and 103-42 since head coach Steve Shields took over in 2003, so they got that going for them. It’ll be a good test for the Trojans, one of the most inexperienced teams in college hoops. If they can keep it close for more than a half, it’ll build some confidence but if they get down early, it’s likely all over.
Middle Tennessee has looked strong all season, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. They have too much fire-power for the young Trojans to handle. It’ll take a miracle to pull off the upset but sometimes, desperate home teams have a tendency to do the unthinkable. Not here, not tonight, not if Kermit Davis can help it.