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November 9, 2009

Raiders make strong first impression

The curtain hasn't officially risen for Blue Raider basketball, but the dress rehearsal on Monday night indicated that a team with seven newcomers is capable of producing when the lights come on for real.

Middle Tennessee stormed past visiting North Alabama, 99-60 in exhibition action at Murphy Center.

Senior forward Montarrio Haddock led all scorers with 25 points, but it was the new faces on the roster that most delighted the nearly 3,000 fans that came to the Glass House for a sneak peek at this year's squad.

MT's seven newcomers combined for 54 points on 20 of 38 shooting, led by freshman J.T. Sulton's 17 points on 8 of 11 field goal shooting.

"I got into a good rhythm because our point guards really passed the ball and moved the ball well," Sulton said. "That gave me a chance to be able to score."

Sulton showed good body control and strength in the paint as he scored most of his points on power moves around the basket, including a pair of dunks in traffic.

That level of toughness impressed head coach Kermit Davis.

"(Sulton) is such a great kid," Davis said. "His deficiency early, like a lot of young big guys, is that he hasn't been real physical. But tonight he played physical. Everything was right at the rim. He rebounded the ball. He had nine rebounds in 19 minutes and that's why he played so well."

MT's new backcourt made a positive first impression as well. Junior college transfers James Washington and Rod Emanuel combined for 11 assists and just five turnovers, while freshman guard James Gallman showcased his dead-eye shooting touch with four 3-pointers and 16 total points.

The offensive efficiency came as the Raiders continue to work without senior star Desmond Yates, who is likely out for a month recovering from knee surgery underwent on Monday.

Considering Yates was on the sidelines in regular clothes, the near 100 point effort and 54 percent shooting was very pleasing to Davis.

"It's good to see that when Boogie doesn't play and when James (Washington) and Rod (Emanuel), who have been our leading scorers in scrimmages, didn't lead us tonight, and we go 12 for 23 from the line but still score 99 is very encouraging."

"We scored 99 points, so we almost got to 100 but didn't quite get it, but we pushed the ball well," Washington said. "We took real good shots and fed the ball inside, so it's looking like it could be a real good year."

Defensively, MT racked up 11 steals, four of them by Washington, and limited UNA to just 25 percent shooting in the second half. The Blue Raiders dominated the rebounding column, 51-31.

"To hold an exhibition opponent to 31 percent shooting is really good," Davis said. "(UNA) scored 80 at Tennessee a week and a half ago, so it's capable offensively to do some things. I was really extremely pleased with (the defense)."

MT opens the regular season on Friday night against King College.


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