Photo by Joi Williams / MTSU Sidelines
Story by Darius Horton / Sports Reporter
The college basketball season is in full swing and contenders are separating themselves from the pretenders in their respective conferences.
The Middle Tennessee men and women’s teams are no exception, as they are both in the running for the Conference USA regular season titles. The men are riding a three-game winning streak after dominating both UTSA and UTEP at home this past week to keep pace with Western Kentucky and Old Dominion.
On the women’s side, they are coming off of a successful weekend that saw them defeat Marshall and Charlotte to get them back in the league race. Sitting at third place in the standings, the Lady Raiders find themselves in a four-team battle with WKU, UAB and Rice for conference supremacy.
The journey to March gets no easier this week. The men hit the road this week to take on ODU and Charlotte, while the women took on Louisiana Tech at home on Thursday. For both teams to continue their pace, they will each need certain players to step up. Here are five players Blue Raider fans should watch this week.
The senior three-point marksman has averaged 12.2 points and five rebounds per game over his last five contests.
Potts averaged 15.3 points per game last season, but has seen that number dwindle down to 12.9 this season. One thing that has improved is his shooting, as his 40 percent mark from three this season is up from 38.4 percent last year.
With his continued improvement this season, Potts is ready for the big stage against second-place conference foe Old Dominion. He struggled against ODU last season, as he scored 14 points on 5-15 shooting in the Blue Raiders only game against them. The troubles extended to the three-point arc, as Potts only made two of his seven attempts from long-range.
If the Blue Raiders want to leave Norfolk, Virginia, with a win on Thursday, Potts must have a big impact on the game.
Jones has been great for the Lady Raiders as of late. Her uptick in scoring has been incredible, as she’s reached double figures in five of her last six games. Jones had not reached double figures in scoring at all prior to this hot streak.
Her shooting stroke was on display when the Lady Raiders traveled to play UTEP. With the team in need of a spark, Jones gave it to them in the form of 30 points on 10-17 shooting. This included eight three-point shots, a mark that tied the school record for threes in a single game.
She continued her strong play on Jan.25 against Marshall when she led the team with 21 points on 7-13 shooting and four three-pointers. Jones has averaged 16.3 points a game in her last six contests, proving that it wasn’t just a one-game hot streak.
If she continues to be a solid scoring threat, the Lady Raiders will be a tough match-up for anyone that has to play them in March.
The transfer from the University of Alabama has been a force in Conference USA this year. He’s stuffed the stat sheets consistently, as he is averaging 21.2 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. King has also managed to be a consistent presence in the scoring department, as he has only failed to score in double figures once this season.
He scored 22 points against UTSA to lead the Blue Raiders to a 75-51 victory. While he only scored 11 in the game against UTEP, King proved to be a solid playmaker and distributor by recording three assists and grabbing eight rebounds.
Fans should look for King to continue his excellent play this week.
Johnson has been a cornerstone for the Lady Raiders since arriving on campus. She’s only averaging 9.7 points a game this season, but is still only a year removed from scoring 20 points consistently.
She still has the potent scoring ability that enabled her to join the 1,000-point scoring club in only her second season. At her current pace, Johnson has a chance to become the program’s best scorer of all-time.
Johnson has also shown leadership throughout her two years at MT, something she likely learned from playing under Ty Petty and Brea Edwards. That is more important than ever now that she is the face of a team which is primarily driven by younger talent.
In her most recent game, she recorded 18 points and seven rebounds against Charlotte on Sunday. Johnson dominated last year against Louisiana Tech when she tallied 23 points and five rebounds. If she produces a similar game to that, the Lady Raiders’ winning streak will continue.
If you’re talking about someone who can give the team a spark, Antwain Johnson is that player. He gives fans highlight plays with his dunking ability and acrobatic finishes while driving to the basket.
As a scorer, he is averaging 8.2 points a game and shooting 89.1 percent from the free throw line. He has taken a bigger role in recent games, as he was in the starting lineup for both contests last week.
He bounced back from a tough outing against WKU with a 15-point performance against UTSA. Johnson was much more efficient in this outing, as he shot 4-10 from the floor and made three of his three-point attempts. If he continues this trend of being a scorer that can create his own shot, the Blue Raiders will be a much tougher team to defeat in any setting.
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