The Panthers were unable to complete a comeback, despite four players reaching double figures, losing to Middle Tennessee 70-68.
Sophomore Jerome Frink finished with a season-high 18 points but was unable to connect on a would-be game winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“It was a hard fought game. Both teams came out, played with energy,” Head Coach Anthony Evans said. “Middle Tennessee made some plays down the end.”
Size played a key role for the Blue Raiders as points in the paint came at a premium for the Panthers throughout the game.
Going into the locker room, the Panthers were down 39-30 despite shooting 50 percent from the floor, to Middle Tennessee’s 42.9 percent.
As the second half went on, the Panthers began to cut into their deficit but were still unable to slow down the Neiko Hunter and Shawn Jones. Hunter finished with a team high 25 points, while Jones finished with 23, including reaching over 1,000 career points at Middle Tennessee.
“There’s going to be mis-matches at times, we know that, those are two aggressive players, athletics,” Evans said. “So what we try to do is box them out and I think we did a good job. First half they had 10 offensive rebounds, second half they only had 3. When you play a team like that, you gotta have five guys on the glass because there so aggressive.”
The Panthers came into Saturday’s game averaging 38.3 rebounds per game but the duo from Middle Tennessee held the team to just 25, while giving up 34 of their own.
“In the first half it was difficult but as the game progressed, we got a little bit more tougher on the boards, blocked them out better and we kept them off the glass,” Frink said.
Redshirt junior Dennis Mavin also contributed with 15 points of his own. Redshirt senior Rakeem Buckles and senior Tymell Murphy also finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
For the second consecutive game, Buckles fouled out of the game. The Panthers switched defenses but were forced to use Buckles to try and stop any close plays, which ultimately cost them.
“We were playing a little more zone in the second half,” Evans said.”At some point you have to go man to man. Just have to continue to play.”
The Panthers will now hit the road for a two-game road trip, beginning with UTSA, Feb. 13.