MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The Middle Tennessee men’s basketball team (6-1) used a 13-0 second-half run and held South Alabama (4-3) without a field goal for the final nine minutes to rally past the Jaguars 65-55 at the Murphy Center Saturday afternoon in nonconference action.
Middle Tennessee had four players reach double-digits as Neiko Hunter andKerry Hammonds II led the charge with 14 points each, while Tweety Knightpitched in 12 points. Hammonds narrowly missed a double-double, grabbing a team-high eight rebounds. Jacquez Rozier posted double-figures for the second-straight game with 10 points, marking the sixth time this season four or more Blue Raiders have scored double-digits.
After trailing by eight at intermission, Middle Tennessee used a series of second-half runs, including a 9-1 spurt capped by a Hunter layup to cut the Jaguar lead to 43-42 with 10:51 remaining in the game.
Both squads then swapped points for several minutes in a contest that saw eight lead changes and the score knotted up six times. South Alabama managed to push its lead to 53-49 with 5:41 to go, but the Blue Raiders proved to be solid from the charity stripe down the stretch, going 11-for-12 at the free throw line in a four-minute span en route to a 13-0 run.
The spurt propelled MT to a 65-55 advantage as Hammonds connected on a pair of free throws in the final seconds, sealing the victory as MT moved its nation-leading regular season home winning streak to 33 games.
“Obviously South Alabama has a nice team,” said MT head coach Kermit Davis. “They have a great, experienced front line and we knew what kind of game it was. I was really disappointed how we started the game. I thought we were lethargic on both ends. (We had) no ball movement. The whole building was kind of lethargic and we were responsible for that. The halftime speech wasn’t for the faint and the weak. I thought our guys responded pretty well. We started attacking the rim and did a phenomenal job in our zone defense during the second half to hold them to 4-for-32 from the floor. It was a great defensive effort, not a pretty game, but a good, hard-fought, defensive game in the second half.”
MT took six free throw attempts in the first half, compared to 23 in the second. The 79.3-shooting percentage from the free throw line marked a season-high for the Blue Raiders, besting the 72.2-percent set at Florida.
In the first half, South Alabama took a commanding lead after a back-and-forth battle as the Jaguars pushed the lead to as many as 11 points with 5:36 remaining in the opening frame. The Blue Raiders chipped away at the Jaguar lead, cutting the deficit to 34-26 at the break.
South Alabama was led by Augustine Rubit with a game-high 15 points, while Aakim Saintil was second the squad with 14 points. Mychal Ammons snagged a game-best 10 rebounds to go along with seven points, while Rubit flirted with a double-double, pulling down nine boards.
Middle Tennessee returns to action Tuesday, Dec. 3, hosting Belmont at 7 p.m. inside the Glass House. The contest will be MT’s Blackout game as fans are encouraged to arrive early and pick up the official Blackout t-shirt.