Raiders knock off Southern Miss, 81-64

MT wins seventh-straight

February 15, 2014 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - In a battle between two of the top teams in Conference USA, the Middle Tennessee men's basketball team (19-7, 9-2 C-USA) reigned supreme, downing Southern Miss (21-5, 8-3 C-USA) 81-64 Saturday afternoon inside the Murphy Center as the Blue Raiders extended their winning streak to seven.

With the win MT moved to 13-2 at home this season. The Raiders are 44-4 inside the Murphy Center over the last three seasons and 24-1 in home conference games. MT boasts a 42-5 record in conference games over the last three seasons.

Middle Tennessee was paced by senior Kerry Hammonds II, posting a season-best 26 points. He went 6-for-10 from three-point range, tying his career-best mark of six treys set against Louisiana Jan. 19, 2013. Fellow senior Neiko Hunter reached double-figures for the fourth consecutive game, scoring 20 points and collecting a team-best seven rebounds.

Men's Basketball vs. Southern Miss
"Southern Miss, they played a tough unconventional style of basketball," said MT head coach Kermit Davis. "It's really good and (Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall)'s really got a system of pressing and extending zone defenses. I thought in the first half we probably executed as well as we've executed in a long time. We did a few little new wrinkles against the zone; you almost have to. It's different than almost any zone you play against. We passed the ball and were sharp. Kerry Hammonds was just terrific. I'm proud of our team."

The Blue Raiders and Golden Eagles started the game trading baskets through the first three minutes. Southern Miss hit back-to-back layups to close the MT lead to 7-6 before the Blue Raiders went on a 14-3 spurt over the next four minutes. Hunter and Hammonds each hit two three-pointers during the run, including back-to-back buckets by Hunter in the heart of the stretch.

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The Raiders' hot hands in the first half pushed the score to 47-29 at the intermission. MT shot 69.2-percent from behind the arc in the opening frame, connecting on 9-of-13 from three-point range. The nine treys tied a program-best for threes in a half for the third time. The Raiders hit nine in the first period at UT-Martin Jan. 31, 1998 and then against at FIU Jan. 5, 2002. Hammonds accounted for five of MT's threes at the break.

The Blue Raider lead held in double-digits for 13 minutes of the second half, before the Golden Eagles finally cut it down to eight (60-52) with 6:58 remaining. Hammonds hit a quick jumper to push the lead back to 10, but Southern Miss responded with a layup on the next possession.

Clinging to a 62-54 lead, the Blue Raiders pieced together a 9-1 run to push the lead to 71-55 with 3:30 left to play. Shawn Jones scored twice during the streak and finished with seven points as MT went on to claim the 17-point victory 81-64, keeping MT on top of the C-USA standings.

"We feel good about what we did," Davis said. "We know the quality of opponent. I'm just pleased about the progress of our team. We've become such a better practice team. We're so much better on game day. We were so immature about two months ago, but we're just mature and starting to understand the importance of all of the time we spend together on the floor."

MT senior Tweety Knight handed out a game-high eight assists to go along with seven points, while Jaqawn Raymond also added seven points.

Southern Miss was led by Neil Watson with 17 points. Michael Craig added 11 points, while Jeremiah Eason put up 10 points to go along with a team-best six rebounds.

On the day, MT shot 53.7-percent from the floor and 52.4-percent from long distance as the Blue Raiders netted a season-high 11 treys. Middle Tennessee recorded nine threes in an 89-84 overtime win against UAB Jan. 11. The Blue Raiders are 6-0 this season when hitting seven or more three-balls in a game.

The Blue Raiders return to action Thursday, Feb. 20, traveling to Charlotte for a 7 p.m. contest.

Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.