DENVER (AP) — Chris Udofia gave Denver a boost and helped deal Middle Tennessee its first Sun Belt Conference loss.
Udofia scored a career-high 27 points and had four blocked shots as the Pioneers beat the Blue Raiders 75-60 Saturday.
Rob Lewis added 17 points and Royce O’Neale had 14 for Denver (17-7, 7-4), which snapped a two-game losing streak.
LaRon Dendy had 15 points and Marcos Knight scored 14 for Middle Tennessee (21-4, 10-1), which has lost two of its last three games overall.
The Blue Raiders trailed for most of the second half but tied the game 38-all on Raymond Cintron’s 3-pointer. The Pioneers, who came into the game 12th in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage, heated up from long range. Brian Stafford and Udofia hit consecutive 3-pointers and Lewis added two free throws to give Denver a 46-38 lead with 14:47 left.
“My teammates found me open and I just tried to put the ball in the basket,” Udofia said. “This was huge for us for confidence. We had a tough loss and this win helped us out.”
A layup by Dendy and another 3 by Cintron got Middle Tennessee to within three points. Udofia responded with a layup and a three-point play and O’Neale added another three-point play to make it 64-55 with 4:29 remaining.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” Denver coach Joe Scott said. “We respond. When another team takes a four-point lead it doesn’t bother us. We bang some shots, we retake the lead, and we did it again today.”
Middle Tennessee lost its first regular-season conference game since Feb. 19, 2011.
“We’ve been such a tough team throughout the year in the last eight minutes and for the first time we kind of stopped playing,” Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. “Denver had a lot to do with it. (Udofia) was the best player on the floor. He dominated the game.”
Udofia sealed the game with a block on one end and a dunk on the other with 1:44 left that made it 71-56.
“We stayed at home and let the game come to us and I was able to see things a lot more clearly and see where I could step in,” Udofia said of his defense.
Denver took a 34-31 lead into halftime on the strength of its inside game and foul shooting. The Pioneers’ first 14 points came on layups and dunks and they hit just one 3-pointer in the first half, their fewest for a half this year. The hit all 11 free throws and scored their last six points of the half from the line.
Dendy, the Blue Raiders’ leading scorer, was held to three points in the first half.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)