Middle Tennessee clinches second straight C-USA title


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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Brandon Walters scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as No. 24 Middle Tennessee clinched its second straight Conference USA title with an 82-64 victory over second-place Western Kentucky on Thursday night.

Nick King, the leading candidate for C-USA Player of the Year, scored 18 points and had nine rebounds for the Blue Raiders (24-5, 16-1), who cracked the national rankings for the first time in school history last week.

Antwain Johnson added 17 points and Giddy Potts had 11 as Middle Tennessee shot 55 percent from the field, extending its winning streak to 11 in front of the season's biggest crowd (11,307) at the Murphy Center.

The Blue Raiders swept the regular-season series with the Hilltoppers (22-8, 14-3), including a 66-62 win on Jan. 20. Middle Tennessee has won 13 of the last 15 against Western Kentucky.

Lamonte Bearden led the Hilltoppers with 24 points and Justin Johnson had 14.

The loss ended Western Kentucky's six-game winning streak.

The Hilltoppers shot at least 55 percent from the field in their previous five games, but they dropped to 44 percent against the Blue Raiders.

After a close first half, Middle Tennessee began to pull away early in the second half.

Middle Tennessee shot 60 percent from the field during the first 20 minutes, including a 7-of-11 showing from 3-point range, to take a 43-34 halftime lead.

Several prominent bracketologists predict the Blue Raiders will earn a seed in the Nos. 9-12 range at the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Middle guard Tyrik Dixon, who missed the previous game due to concussion protocol, returned and played 12 minutes.

The Blue Raiders improved to 11-1 at home.

BIG PICTURE

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers, who upset No. 18 Purdue earlier in the season, were held to their lowest scoring output since a 66-62 loss to Middle Tennessee on Jan. 20.

Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders posted their second straight double-digit win since being ranked.

UP NEXT

Western Kentucky visits Alabama-Birmingham in its regular-season finale Saturday.

Middle Tennessee hosts Marshall in its regular-season finale Saturday.

___

For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP\_Top25

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