No. 25 Florida Atlantic looks to defeat host Middle Tennessee for the second time in three weeks and move a step closer to its first Conference USA regular-season title Thursday in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The Owls (24-2, 14-1 C-USA) are coming off a 90-85 overtime win over visiting Louisiana Tech on Saturday, leading them to re-enter the AP Top 25 poll after falling out earlier this month. The Blue Raiders (15-11, 8-7) have dropped two straight following a 92-69 loss at Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.
The Owls, whose 24 wins are a school record and the second-most in Division I this season, squandered a 15-point lead against Louisiana Tech in the final 9:15 of regulation. But in the extra session, Vladislav Goldin opened the scoring with a layup before Alijah Martin’s 3-pointer gave FAU an 81-76 lead it wouldn’t relinquish with 2:59 to play.
FAU, which is on a three-game winning streak, allowed Louisiana Tech to shoot a scorching 31 of 60 (51.7 percent) from the field, including 11-of-29 (37.9 percent) from 3-point range.
However, the Owls shot 46 percent from the floor, including 40 percent (12-of-30) from beyond the arc, in addition to scoring 29 points off the Bulldogs’ 18 turnovers.
“Our defensive decision making wasn’t nearly as crisp as it normally is,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “We’ve been on the wrong end of a lot of these the last few years — really close games that come down to the last couple of possessions. We’re just fortunate that we have guys who can go make plays and make big shots.”
Martin, who averages 12.7 points per game, finished with a season-high 26 points, while Johnell Davis, who averages a team-high 13.5 points per game, added 19. Goldin scored 17, well above his average of 10.8 points per game.
Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee never led against the Blazers, who jumped out to a 21-9 lead less than eight minutes into the game that ballooned to a 47-22 halftime advantage. UAB led by as many as 30 in the second half.
Eli Lawrence, who averages a team-high 12.7 points per game, scored 18, while Teafale Lenard Jr., who averages 9.1 points per game, added 16 against UAB. Camryn Weston, who averages 10.2 points per game, was the only other Blue Raider who scored in double figures, finishing with 11.
“I just thought from the get-go they were a tougher team than we were. I thought they were more physical,” MTSU coach Nick McDevitt said.
“I thought when (playing) offense got tough, we got ‘individual.’ We’re not going to beat teams (that way) on the road. It’s hard enough when you’re doing all that stuff well.”
In FAU and MTSU’s first meeting of the season Jan. 26, the host Owls led 38-30 at halftime before pulling away in the second half for an 85-67 win.
Davis came off the bench to finish with 25 points and five steals for the Owls, while Martin also entered as a reserve and chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds. Nicholas Boyd and Bryan Greenlee added 13 and 11 points, respectively. Goldin just missed a double-double, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds.
The Blue Raiders were led by Lawrence and Weston, who scored 17 and 13 points, respectively, while Elias King came off the bench to add 10 points.
–Field Level Media