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March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Sun Belt Quarterfinals Recap

Recap by Zach Van Hart

No. 5 Middle Tennessee State 76, No. 4 Western Kentucky 62
OK, anyone who thought the Blue Raiders would walk into E.A. Diddle Arena, home court for the Hilltoppers, with their leading scorer out with a broken hand suffered three days prior in practice and walk out with a dominating win, please raise their hand. For all those doubters, there is no arguing with the final score, as Middle Tennessee State shocked Western Kentucky with a 76-62 win. In the absence of Mike Dean, who averaged 16.2 points per game, four players stepped up to score in double digits. The leading man Sunday night was Michael Cuffee, who scored a season-high 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 shooting from the line, in addition to grabbing a team-high nine rebounds.

The Hilltoppers led for nearly all of the first fifteen minutes of the game. But MTSU went up with 4:53 remaining in the half and never trailed again. The Raiders eventually took a ten-point lead going into halftime. Western Kentucky tried to come back but was done in by its poor three-point shooting (six of 26). The loss had to come as a double shock for the Toppers, as they not only lost at home, but also lost in the tournament for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, breaking a nine-game winning streak in the tourney. For the Raiders, their road does not get any easier: next up is No. 1 seed Louisiana Lafayette.

No. 3 New Orleans 91, No. 6 North Texas 89
Another instant classic in the Sun Belt quarterfinals, as the Privateers defeated the Mean Green in double overtime, 91-89. True to form, New Orleans was able to advance the game to overtime, their fourth extra session game out of its last five, and took over. They had trailed by twelve halfway through the second half before North Texas came back. Both award winners on each team came up with a huge game. Lester “Bo” McCalebb, the Freshman of the Year, scored a career-high 31 points, eight during the final two minutes of the second overtime, and the game-winning layup with twelve seconds remaining.

On the other side, Defensive Player of the Year Shawnson Johnson did everything he could to keep the Mean Green in the game. Johnson finished with a tournament record 21 rebounds and eight blocks, which tied a tournament record. Junior Leonard Hopkins scored a season-high 27 points, going five of ten from beyond the arc, but it was not enough. Senior Kyle Buggs also scored a season-high (26) for the Privateers, who advanced to the semifinals where they will face No. 2 seed Arkansas-Little Rock Monday night.

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