Trojans take on league’s best in Middle Tennessee

Published 7:58 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Troy guard Will Weathers (1) drives the ball past Texas-San Antonio guard Melvin Johnson III (31) during an NCAA college basketball game in Troy, Ala., Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. (Messenger Staff Photo/Thomas Graning)

The Troy men’s basketball team returns home tonight to take on the Sun Belt’s leading team. Middle Tennessee State has blazed a trail through its 2011-12 schedule starting 13-2 including wins on the road against Ole Miss and UCLA while the Trojans (5-8) have struggled of late losing five of their last six.

Middle Tennessee is led by forward LaRon Dendy (6-9, 235), an elite player according to Troy head coach Don Maestri.

“In my opinion, he’s the best player in the Sun Belt. He is a difference maker. A high-energy guy who does a lot of thing well.”

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While Dendy would be Maestri’s choice for the league’s most valuable player, he also feels Middle Tennessee has several other playmakers.

“You can’t just pick on guy,” he said. “They go deep on their bench.”

Troy will look to get back on track after falling on the road to Denver and North Texas to open Sun Belt play. The Trojans have shot just 32.5 percent from three-point range while scoring just 127 combined points in those games. Troy has not won a game this season when scoring under 70.

“When you not winning you lose confidence,” Maestri said. “We’ve got to start winning some games to get that confidence back.”

Troy went into halftime tied with North Texas at 33-33 but shot just 27.5 percent in the second half to fall, 87-65.

“We’ve had some bright spots but more downs than ups lately,” said Maestri. “Against North Texas, we just hit a wall and couldn’t score.

The Trojans will need to find a way to score against the Blue Raiders if they hope to pick up their first conference win of the season. Middle Tennessee is second in the nation in field goal percentage, making 51.2 percent of their shots.

The Blue Raiders set a single game Sun Belt record and tied the fourth best three-point shooting performance in their 86-66 win over UCLA. As a team, Middle Tennessee shot 90.9 percent from beyond the arc.

“We’re going to need four guys scoring at a pretty good clip,” Maestri said. “If we do that and play good defense, we’ve got a shot.”

With Steven Cunningham’s return, Troy was close to being at full strength for the first time since the opening week of the season. Point guard and team leading scorer Will Weathers suffered an ankle injury against Denver, however, and was questionable going into the North Texas match. Weathers was able to play 24 minutes but shot just 3 of 12 from the field. After battling sickness this past week, his availability is questionable for tonight’s game.

“I don’t know exactly where he will be health wise (at game time),” said Maestri. “We have to have Weathers going good for us to have our right chemistry as a team.”

Troy and Middle Tennessee will play a double header tonight with the women’s teams facing off at 5:15 and the men immediately following at 7:30 p.m.