BOCA RATON, Fla. – The Blue Raiders, led by seniors Calvin O’Neil and Desmond Yates, clinched a share of the Sun Belt East Division title with a 66-57 win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday night.
O’Neil guided the team throughout the night ending with 13 points and came through at the charity stripe going 7-8. Yates, who missed most of the first half due to foul trouble, led the team with 14 points after going on a big run in the second half and ended the game 7-10 from the field.
It is the first time the Blue Raiders have won a share of the Sun Belt title and the last time a Blue Raider team won a share of any league title was in 1988-89.
Middle Tennessee is now 19-12 on the season which is the first 19 win season since 2004-05, head coach Kermit Davis’ third season. In Sun Belt action, the Blue Raiders end the season 13-5, its best record since joining the league in 2000-01.
“I am tickled to death for our players to be regular season Sun Belt Champions. To go win seven games on the road in league play. It’s a tough swing to go on a road trip and have to sweep to win your league. The assistant coaches did a fantastic job, I am proud of our players and excited for our fans. We still have a lot to do but it will be a fun celebration this week,” Davis said.
The Blue Raiders shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and 43.1 percent in the game. Junior Rod Emanuel guided the bench with 11 points after going 3-4 from behind the arc and the field as the bench outscored FAU to 18-4.
Defensively, the Blue Raiders pulled down 36 rebounds led by junior Trevor Ottley who had eight while senior Montarrio Haddock and freshman J.T. Sulton added seven rebounds each. Ottley also blocked a career high six blocks a number of which came at key points in the game.
The Blue Raiders began play with a 6-2 run and never looked back. FAU’s Hugley hit a layup cutting the lead to one, 6-5, with 15:42 but that was as close as the Owls would come to the lead.
Two three-pointers by Haddock made it a six point lead and started a huge run for the Blue Raiders. The Blue Raiders pulled ahead by 15 points, 30-15, with four minutes to play after a 24-9 run. FAU ended the half on a 7-0 run to cut the Middle Tennessee lead to 10, 32-22.
O’Neil led all scorers with eight points while Haddock added six and Gallman and Emanuel each posted five. Defensively, the team had 24 rebounds, led by Sulton and Ottley with five and three blocks all by Ottley.
Middle Tennessee began the second half on a 14-9 run, led by Yates who scored eight, for a 46-31 lead at the first media timeout. The Owls tried to come back but the Blue Raiders maintained a 15-point lead, 60-45, after a jumper by Washington with less than three minutes remaining.
Middle Tennessee will find out its seed and when it will play the Sun Belt Conference Championships on Sunday, Feb. 28 when it is officially released by the league office. Once the seeds and brackets have been announced by the Sun Belt all tournament information will be posted on goblueraiders.com.