BOCA RATON, Fla. – Middle Tennessee extended its winning streak in true road games to double digits Saturday night, downing Florida Atlantic 61-57 at FAU Arena.
MT (11-4, 3-0) is now 7-0 on the road this season, leading the nation in true road wins. The win against the Owls (6-9, 0-3) ends a stretch of seven consecutive games away from the Murphy Center with the Blue Raiders last playing at home on Dec. 9.
“Our team needs to get back home, I really believe that,” head coach Kermit Davis said. We’ve been away from home for going on 30 days and have played 11 out of 15 on the road this season, more than maybe any other team in the country.”
The Blue Raiders struggled to get started just as they did Thursday night in Miami, falling behind 12-5 through seven minutes despite six Owl turnovers in the opening minutes.
Junior guard Antwain Johnson provided an early spark off the bench, notching six points in 11 first half minutes to keep the Raiders close in Boca Raton. An old-fashioned 3-point play by the Greenwood, Fla., native capped a 7-0 run that tied things up at 12 with 10:53 remaining in the half.
Johnson would finish with 10 points thanks in large part to a 6-for-7 night at the free throw line.
Things remained tight but in favor of the Owls up until the 4:08 mark when a pair of Giddy Potts free throws gave MT its first lead of the game, but after a couple of traded baskets FAU would regain a 27-26 lead and cruise into halftime with a 35-29 advantage.
As the Raiders’ struggles to move the ball continued, MT logged just two assists to 12 turnovers in the first half. The Blue Raiders did collect six steals on 12 FAU turnovers, but managed just three points on the 12 Owl turnovers.
Middle Tennessee began to look slightly better out of the break, holding the Owls without a field goal in their first six attempts of the half to pull within one at 37-36. After an Owl 2-pointer Karl Gamble then collected back-to-back baskets on a layup and a dunk to put MT back on top by a score of 40-39 with 13:15 to play.
The back-and-forth contest then featured three ties and four lead changes over the course of the next seven minutes before MT took a 50-48 lead on a layup by Giddy Potts.
The Blue Raiders appeared to grab hold of the momentum and start to deflate the Owls hopes at the 2:27 mark when a David Simmons steal led to a Nick King layup to put MT up five, their largest lead of the game to that point. Tyrik Dixon got in on the act on the next possession with a steal and breakaway layup to extend the lead to seven with 2:15 remaining.
The Owls wouldn’t quit there though, fighting back within two at 59-57 with 13 seconds remaining as free throws hampered the Blue Raiders down the stretch. A pair of free throws by King, however, put MT back up four with 10 seconds on the clock before an errant 3-pointer by Florida Atlantic saw the buzzer sound and the Blue Raiders escape with their perfect road record intact.
“The one thing you can say about our team is that we certainly have the desire and the confidence to make plays down the stretch to win the game and I really hope that our fans pour in the Murphy Center when we finally return home on Thursday,” Davis added.
King led the way for MT with 16 points and added 11 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double and fourth of the season while Potts totaled 13 points, five rebounds and four steals.
Middle Tennessee will finally step back on the Murphy Center floor Thursday, 33 days removed from its last home contest, to host LA Tech in an 8:00 p.m. contest on CBS Sports Network.