CINCINNATI – Despite being tied at halftime, the Middle Tennessee men’s basketball team (8-4) struggled during the second half and ended up dropping a 69-48 decision on the road at Cincinnati (9-2) Saturday afternoon inside Fifth Third Arena.
The Blue Raiders were led on the day by senior Kerry Hammonds II with 17 points, going 5-for-8 from behind the arc. Senior point guard Tweety Knightpaced MT on the boards, grabbing a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with seven points and five assists.
Both clubs started out slow in the first half as the Bearcats were 26.1-percent (6-of-23) from the floor in the opening frame, while MT was 23.8-percent (5-of-21). Cincinnati jumped out to an early six-point lead with 13:40 left in the first stanza, but the Blue Raiders went to work and whittled that down to just two with 10:23 to go. The teams then exchanged points for several minutes.
With 1:45 left in the first half, a dunk from Sean Kilpatrick gave Cincinnati at 21-16 advantage. However, redshirt sophomore Jaqawn Raymond then hit a pair of free throws to pull MT within two with 1:33 to go in the half. As the clock ticked on, Hammonds came up big for the Raiders, knocking down his third trey of the day and knotting the contest at 21-21 just before halftime.
“It was a totally different step up in class from our last game, nothing against Tennessee Temple, but Cincinnati is a national level team,” said MT head coach Kermit Davis. “They’re a really good physical team; they guarded us the right way. I was really proud of our team for 20 minutes, having to play so long without Neiko (Hunter) and Shawn (Jones) with them getting in foul trouble early. I was really proud of how our team hung in there without our two leading scorers and leading rebounder to be tied at the half.”
The second half proved to be trouble for the Blue Raiders as Cincinnati jumped out to a 31-25 lead at the first media timeout. The Bearcats continued their 16-5 run through to the next media timeout, pulling away 45-30 with 11:25 left to play.
After the timeout, the teams exchanged points for a minute, before Cincinnati went on a 10-0 run, putting the score at 58-34. Senior Zane Gibson snapped the Bearcat spurt with a pair of free throws with 7:20 remaining in the contest. The 24-point lead would prove to be the largest for Cincinnati of the contest. In the end the Raiders would only be able to knock the eventual deficit down two points as the Bearcats claimed a 69-48 victory.
“In the second half, it seemed like we just didn’t come out ready,” Davis said. “You got to give Cincinnati a lot of credit. They made some shots and then played downhill off of some turnovers. You just have to give Cincinnati all the credit. Tweety (Knight) played with a lot of energy, a lot of physical-ness. He still struggled scoring and had six turnovers, but I thought his 10 rebounds were great.”
Kilpatrick led the Bearcats on the day, putting up a game-high 23 points. Justin Jackson aided in effort, turning a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds.
The 21-point loss marks the largest margin of victory for an MT opponent this season as the Raiders fell 79-59 at Florida Nov. 21. The Blue Raiders also posted their lowest field goal percentage of the season, shooting 26.7-percent (12-for-45) from the floor, while the Bearcats went 45.1-percent (23-for-51) from the floor.
Both teams struggled at the line as MT shot 66.7-percent (18-for-27) and Cincinnati was 69.9-percent (16-for-23). The Bearcats also claimed the battle of the boards, outrebounding the Raiders 37-30.
The turnover tally was even at 18 miscues per team, but Cincinnati bested MT in points off turnovers 26-18.
The Blue Raiders return to the hardwood after the Christmas holiday, traveling to Chattanooga for the Dr. Pepper Classic Dec. 29-30. MT will open the four-team tournament Dec. 29, taking on Maine at 4:30 p.m.