MURFREESBORO – Things got a little quiet at the moment LaRon Dendy committed his second foul in 11 seconds, his third overall, early in the second half. Even Middle Tennessee State coach Kermit Davis admitted that he wondered who was going to score.
Not to worry.
On the next offensive possession, JT Sulton, who took Dendy’s spot, delivered a thunderous dunk off an alley-oop pass from Bruce Massey. Marcos Knight followed with a jumper and Raymond Cintron knocked down a 3-pointer.
Dendy spent more than seven and a half minutes on the bench at that point but the Blue Raiders, who led by five when he went out, maintained an advantage that entire time. Eventually they came away with a 68-60 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock on Saturday.
The triumph before 6,806 at Hale Arena and televised by ESPN2 was MTSU’s 23rd of the season, which matched the program record for the most in a season, and clinched the Sun Belt Conference East Division title.
“When I came out, I wasn’t worried because I know my team – they can execute really well without me in there. They can win without me,” Demdy said. “I felt like they would hold it down without me in there.
“… And they did.”
Dendy led all scorers with 23 points, most of which came in the first half. He scored MTSU’s first 12 and by halftime had 19 of 31. He effectively sealed the outcome with a driving layup in the final minute and – appropriately – closed the scoring on a free throw with 11 seconds to play.
Knight added 13 points, Kerry Hammonds chipped in 10 and Sulton scored all nine of his in the second half as MTSU (23-4, 12-1 in SBC play) shot 63.4 percent as a team.
“We needed JT Sulton to play better – and he did – in the second half,” Davis said. “… [Dendy] was in such a good way but got a couple kind of close calls – he did foul on his third one. Then when he came in, I thought he played really smart with three fouls over the last eight or nine minutes,”
Will Neighbour led UALR (12-14, 9-3), the West Division leader, with 22 points. D’Andre Williams added 18.
“There’s a reason that they’re the best offensive team in our league, in field goal percentage,” UALR coach Steve Shields said. “They’re hard to guard, [and] Dendy’s a load in there.”