Tennessee State University returns to the friendly confines of the Gentry Center when the Tigers host Middle Tennessee in the 'Battle of the Blues' on Thursday evening at the Gentry Center. Tip-off against the Blue Raiders is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Tigers (3-4) are returning home from a four-game road swing, finishing 2-2 during that stretch. TSU picked up a 69-64 win over Morgan State last Saturday at the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, shooting 56 percent (9-of-16) from 3-point range.
Junior forward Robert Covington once again led the Tigers, inking a game-best 23 points and eight rebounds against the Bears. Covington has led TSU in scoring in five-of-seven contests this season. He is sixth in the OVC with 16.9 points per game and is second in rebounding (7.1 rpg).
Covington was named to the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational All-Tournament team, averaging 17.0 and 6.5 rebounds in four games.
Also reaching double figures is sophomore Patrick Miller. The Chicago product is posting 10.1 points in seven games. He leads the Tigers with 25 assists and 15 steals.
Forward Kellen Thornton has the best field goal percentage, banking 55 percent (27-of-49) of his shots from the field. Thornton posted 12 points in the win over Morgan State.
TSU holds a 41 field goal percentage (158-of-390), while 3-point shooting has risen to 38 percent (53-of-141). On the season, the Tigers are averaging 65.4 points per game and have notched 15 or more assists in the past five games.
The Tigers and Blue Raiders are meeting for the 55th time on Thursday. MTSU has won 10 out of the last 11 meetings, including a 65-58 win in Murfreesboro last season. The two teams are meeting in Nashville for the first time since Dec. 30, 2005. MTSU won the contest, 67-57.
The Blue Raiders (6-1) are off to the best start since the 1986-87 season. Some of MTSU's notable wins include a victory over UCLA and a pair of wins over Austin Peay. Center LaRon Dendy leads Middle Tennessee with 15.1 points, while Marcos Knight follows with 14.1 points a game.
Employees of Tennessee State University, Davidson County or Metro Nashville that purchase tickets to Thursday's game will receive free admission to Saturday's women's contest against South Alabama (3 p.m. tip). A valid employee ID is required.
The game can be heard on the Big Blue Network 102.1 FM The Light in Nashville and 101.9 FM in Clarksville. Albert Dawson will call the action with Wade Neely giving the commentary. Live video and stats will be available online at TSUTigers.com.
SCOUTING MIDDLE TENNESSEE: Middle Tennessee (6-1) is off to the best start since the 1986-87 season. The Blue Raiders' only loss was an 87-84 defeat to Belmont in double-over time. Middle Tennessee is 2-0 against Ohio Valley Conference opponents this season, defeating Austin Peay twice (80-71, and 90-70). Middle Tennessee is ranked 22nd in the CollegeInsider.com Mid Major Top-25 Poll. MTSU is first nationally with a field goal percentage of 54.5 and ranks 11th in the NCAA with a 44.5 3-pt field goal percentage. Three MTSU players are averaging double-figures with senior center LaRon Dendy leading the way, posting 15.1 points and 6.3 rebounds a game. Marcos Knight is posting 14.1 ppg and a team-best 6.9 rpg, while JT Sulton is adding 12.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Just minutes before TSU's game at No. 1 North Carolina, forward M.J. Rhett got one of the biggest surprises of his life. His mother, Sgt. Stephanie Rhett stepped into the locker room to surprise her son. M.J. thought his mother was still with the U.S. Army in Iraq. However, Stephanie made her way home to watch her son play against the Tar Heels. The moment was captured on video and over 560,000 people have viewed it since it was posted on the TSUTigers.com YouTube page on Tuesday. M.J. will spend more time with his mom next week in Nashville when the Tigers host Middle Tennessee and play at Belmont.
REMEMBER DECEMBER: TSU hopes to repeat what it did a year ago. December 2010 marked one of the best finishes for the Tigers in recent memory. Tennessee State posted a 5-2 record during that span, including a five-game win streak that stretched from Dec. 4 until Dec. 21. TSU's only losses during that month were at Eastern Illinois (67-68) and at Middle Tennessee (58-65). The Tigers were a perfect 3-0 at the Gentry Center last December.
PUT YOUR TRUST IN COVINGTON: Junior forward Robert Covington has led Tennessee State in scoring in five of the seven games played this season. The Bellwood, Ill., product recorded his 47th career double-figure game on Saturday, posting 23 points in the win over Morgan State. The junior was named to the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational All-Tournament team after averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, recording 11 assists and seven steals. Last week, Covington garnered OVC Player of the Week honors after posting 19.0 points and 9.7 rebounds in three games. Covington has collected ten 20-plus point games in his career. He is just 113 points away from reaching the 1,000 points club at TSU. On the season, Covington ranks sixth in the OVC with 16.9 ppg and is second in rebounding with 7.1 rpg. For his career, Covington has started 64-of-67 games played.
PLAYING IT CLOSE: This season, TSU is 2-2 in single-digit margins after picking up a 69-64 win over Morgan State on Saturday. The 2010-11 season saw the Tigers play 18 of their 30 games, including three overtime games, in tight-nit fashion. TSU finished 9-9 in those games, 2-1 with an extra session. Ten games in a 12-game stretch from Dec. 19 (Morehead State) to Feb. 7 (Jacksonville State) all finished with less than ten points deciding the outcome.
HOME SWEET HOME: Last season, Tennessee State boasted a stout 11-2 record inside the Gentry Center. Currently, the Tigers are on a five game win streak at home dating back to Feb. 5, 2011. The Tigers last dropped a game at home to Murray State, 65-74, on Feb. 3, 2011.
AVOIDING THE SOPHOMORE JINX: So far this season, sophomore Patrick Miller is avoiding the sophomore slump. The Chicago product is second on the team with 10.1 points per game and leads the Tigers with 25 assists. Miller has dished out four or more assists in five games this season. He has a team-best 15 steals and is shooting 31.7 percent (19-of-60) from the floor. Miller is third in the OVC with an average of 34 minutes played per game.
DRAINING THE TREYS: Tennessee State ranks 37th nationally with 53 made three-pointers. Robert Covington and Jordan Cyphers each have 12 made 3-pointers in seven games this season. Guard Wil Peters has drained 11 triples this season, shooting 42.3 percent (11-of-26) from behind the arch. Cyphers leads the Tigers in field goal percentage, connecting on 42.9 percent (12-of-28) of his 3-point shots this season.
NASHVILLE'S OWN: Nashville native and Whites Creek product Wil Peters has been instrumental in the rise of the TSU program the past four seasons. The stingy point guard has inked 80 steals and dished out 286 assists during his lofty career. Last season, he ranked in the top-5 in the OVC with 125 assists in 30 games played. So far this season, Peters has 15 assists in seven games. He is averaging 7.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game this year. Peters is seventh in the OVC, averaging 33 minutes played a game.
NEWCOMERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE: The trifecta of TSU newcomers have been very important early on for the Tigers. Transfers Jordan Cyphers and Kellen Thornton are averaging 8.3 and 8.0 ppg, respectively. The tandem is shooting a combined 46.3 percent from field goal range. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman M.J. Rhett has pulled five or more rebounds in four games this season. Rhett is corralling an average of 5.3 rebounds per game, which is second on the team.
THORNTON MAKING IT COUNT: Junior Kellen Thornton is making every shot attempt count this season. The forward is shooting a team-best 55 percent (27-of-49) from the floor. He has posted double-digits in three games, including a season high 15 at then-ranked No. 1 North Carolina. Beyond scoring, the Illinois State transfer has grabbed 20 boards and dished out six assists in seven games this season.
SPREADING THE WEALTH: In the first two games of the season, TSU combined for only 16 assists. Since then, the Tigers have dished out 15 or more assists in five consecutive games. The Tigers recorded a season high 19 assists in the loss to then-ranked No. 1 North Carolina. Against Mississippi Valley, TSU had 17 assists, while inking 15 in the 69-64 win against Morgan State. Four Tigers have reached double-digit assists this season: Patrick Miller (25), Wil Peters (15), Robert Covington (12) and Jordan Cyphers (10).
BARNETT'S QUEST: Former NBA star and Tennessee State legend Dr. Dick Barnett was on campus two weeks ago in hopes of getting support from the university and Nashville community for his quest to have the 1957, 1958 and 1959 NAIA National Champion teams recognized in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Dr. Barnett was a member of three peat National Champions and went on to have an illustrious career in the NBA, most notably with the New York Knicks. A documentary film crew was also on hand, filming Barnett's quest to have the team recognized in the HOF. The crew called Live Star Entertainment recently produced a documentary for HBO called Cornered: A Life Caught in the Ring.
-- TSU TIGERS --