MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Charlotte historically has been little trouble for Middle Tennessee on the hardwood, and history repeated itself Thursday night.
The Blue Raiders (8-16, 5-6) welcomed the 49ers (5-18, 2-10) to the Murphy Center and used a big second half to cruise to a 71-53 victory, their eighth in a row in the series. They have an all-time 8-1 advantage over Charlotte.
It was also MT’s third straight win overall, the first time it’s done that this season under first-year head coach Nick McDevitt. The blue and white have won five of the last seven.
“It was a really good team win for our ballclub,” McDevitt said. “I thought we were pretty locked in on both ends of the floor for the majority of the night.”
Middle Tennessee looked in sync offensively from the opening tip, allowing the home squad to build as much as an eight-point lead in the first half before going to the locker room up 35-31.
In what was one of their better halves of the season, the Blue Raiders shot 45 percent from the field while knocking down 7-of-17 attempts from 3-point range. They assisted on 11 of their 14 made field goals while turning the rock over just four times.
The ball movement was exactly what McDevitt wants to see from his squad, which went into the night next-to-last in C-USA in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, ahead of Charlotte in both categories.
“The ball movement was pretty good tonight, and it’s been pretty good the last couple of games,” sophomore Donovan Sims said. “If the ball keeps moving like that, we’ll continue to get open shots.”
Halftime did little to slow down the Blue Raiders’ offensive momentum.
Behind long-range sniping from senior Antonio Green, MT built its first double-digit lead with 14 minutes to play and didn’t look back, going up by as many as 21. The Raiders scorched their home nets to the tune of 49 percent shooting with a season-high 19 assists on 27 made baskets.
Not to be overlooked was MT’s defensive intensity. Charlotte managed to shoot just 39 percent, including 32 percent in the second half, and the Blue Raiders’ nine steals were two off their season high. Conference second-leading scorer Jon Davis (21.5 per game) was held to 14 points.
“The bigs had to box out and clamp down, and I feel like we did a pretty good job on Jon Davis,” senior Karl Gamble said. “Credit to the guards and the bigs. We all stepped up tonight.”
Four players ended in double-figure scoring for Middle Tennessee, Green leading the way with 21 on a 7-for-15 night from deep. Sims added 16 points with five assists and two steals, and Gamble and junior Reggie Scurry had 12 and 11 points, respectively, and three steals apiece.
The season’s best winning streak will go to four games if the Blue Raiders take down Old Dominion on Saturday. The Monarchs, who went into the night in sole possession of first place in C-USA by a half game, will travel to the Murphy Center for a 6 p.m. tip.
“You have to be playing at your best to beat the best teams, and Saturday will be no different,” McDevitt said. “That’s where our focus has to be both tomorrow and in shootaround … because Old Dominion is really, really good.”
Josh Vardaman is the staff writer for goblueraiders.com. Follow him on Twitter @J_Vardaman and also follow @MTAthletics for more on the Blue Raiders.