The biggest mid-major news may have come out of Evansville this week. The Purple Aces fired head coach Walter McCarty after an investigation into sexual misconduct and Title IX violations. Aside from that, many mid-major conferences are getting near the halfway point of league play. This is the time when conference contenders start to make their push. Some leaders were expected, while there have also been some surprises so far this year.
Mid-Major Week Twelve Takeaways
Wright State of Mind
There is another mid-major team making noise in Dayton, Ohio besides the Obi Toppin-led Flyers. The Wright State Raiders are once again looking like the class of the Horizon League. The Raiders crushed rival Northern Kentucky 95-63 on Friday night. That result gave Wright State a two-game lead halfway through league play.
The Raiders were firing on all cylinders Friday, with six players scoring in double-figures. Tanner Holden led all Wright State players with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Loudon Love added 16 points and 11 rebounds. This has been a huge rivalry leading back to the school’s days as non-Division I teams. The 32 point victory is the third-largest ever in the series. Wright State led practically every statistical category and led for all but 17 seconds.
— Wright State MBB (@WSU_MBB) January 26, 2020
Liberty Flames Out
Liberty had a lot of hype surrounding their program after a season that saw them advance to the second round of the tournament. Many felt that the team this year could be better and possibly earn an at-large bid. After an 0-2 week in Atlantic Sun play, those hopes are all but shattered.
On Wednesday, Liberty fell to North Florida 71-70, giving the Flames their first conference loss. The Ospreys, who lead the nation in made three-pointers, made 10 three-point field goals. Their 71 points scored were also 20 more than Liberty averages giving up on the season. With the loss, Liberty has still never won at UNF Arena.
Liberty could probably have afforded one conference loss, but the Flames lost again to Stetson on Saturday. Liberty had an 11-point advantage at halftime, but only scored 14 points on six made field goals in the second half. They also shot a season-low 33 percent from the field. Stetson’s 48-43 win created a three-way tie atop the standings between Liberty, North Florida and Stetson. The Flames will need to win their conference tournament to go dancing.
Little Rock, Big Surprise
The Little Rock Trojans were picked 11th in the preseason Sun Belt poll out of 12 teams. Now, as the beginning of February approaches, the Trojans are 9-2 and sitting in first place after beating preseason favorite South Alabama on Saturday. The win avenged one of Little Rock’s two conference losses this year. It is their seventh road win of the season, the most since the 2015-16 team won 12. Little Rock’s nine conference wins match their combined total from the previous two seasons.
Markquis Nowell paces the Trojans, averaging 17.4 points per game. Nowell scored 22 points against South Alabama, his tenth game scoring 20 or more points. Little Rock is 8-2 when Nowell scores 20 or more. Ruot Monyyong also had his 12th double-double, tied for the most in a single-season in program history. If the Trojans can capture the automatic bid out of the Sun Belt Conference, they may be a 15 or 16 seed. However, given expectations, Little Rock will take it.
Division I teams with 9️⃣ conference wins so far this season:
San Diego State
— Little Rock Basketball (@LittleRockMBB) January 26, 2020
Ohio Valley Shakeup
Belmont received the program’s first at-large bid last season. It has long been felt that, since the Bruins joined the Ohio Valley, the path to the title runs through them. If that is the case, there are two teams who are making their case to be this year’s champions.
Murray State defeated Belmont 85-75 on Wednesday night, taking a 9-8 lead in the rivalry since Belmont’s Ohio Valley arrival in 2012. The Racers have now won 17 straight league games dating back to last season. Tevin Brown had 24 points and eight rebounds while Anthony Smith had 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
Austin Peay was next up on Belmont’s schedule, and the Governors defeated the Bruins 86-78. The difference in the game was rebounding, as Austin Peay held a 42-31 advantage. This included a 12-6 offensive rebound advantage that led to 14 second-chance points. This was the first regular-season win over Belmont for Austin Peay since 2008.
Murray State and Austin Peay both sit at 8-0 in Ohio Valley play. This is Austin Peay’s best conference start since the 2003-04 season when the Governors went unscathed in league play. Both clubs will have to face Belmont again before getting a crack at each other. However, it is clear that both programs will likely be there at the end.
Mid-Major Top Performers
The best mid-major scoring performance came from Albany’s Cameron Healy. Healy scored 41 points against Massachusetts-Lowell on Wednesday, a new program record. The Australian went 8-14 from behind the arc and a perfect 7-7 from the free-throw line. His performance helped the Great Danes score 101 points.
IUPUI’s Marcus Burk scored 39 points in an overtime victory over Oakland on Saturday. That was a new career-high for Burk and the Jaguar’s first victory at Oakland since 2006. Burk went 8-15 from three and 7-10 from the charity stripe in 44 of 45 possible minutes.
Shamarkus Kennedy of McNeese State scored 37 points against Houston Baptist on Saturday. It was a new arena record for the Cowboys. He was a remarkable 14-15 shooting and added a career-high 14 rebounds.
Jermaine Marrow of Hampton is back in this section after scoring 37 points against Campbell. He went 10-16 from the free-throw line and is now averaging 24.7 points per game over 14 games. It is also his fifth game scoring 30 or more this season.
Austin Peay’s fantastic start to league play is fueled by Terry Taylor and Jordyn Adams. Taylor and Adams scored 37 points each in a victory over Tennessee State this week. It is believed to be the highest-scoring performance by a duo in school history. The two combined for 45 of Austin Peay’s 52 first-half points, and their 74 combined points were the same total that Tennessee State scored for the game. Taylor went 13-18 from the field with 14 rebounds while Adams went 10-11 from the free-throw line.