For all intensive purposes, the top two teams will clash in Murray with the OVC Championship and the #1 seed in the OVC Tournament on the line. At the beginning of the season, most everyone had this game circled as the game to decide the OVC, although no one would have guessed that both teams would be staring at 4 conference loses going into it. Morehead’s State road woes and Murray State’s home struggles are well documented this season, making the game at Murray just another interesting facet of this massive match-up on ESPN-U tonight.
Their last meeting seems like a season ago…it was 20 games ago for the Racers, 22 for the Eagles, since their December 4th meeting in which Murray turned over the ball 19 times in a 10-point loss. Both teams are on hot streaks: Murray has won 9 of their last 10; Morehead 9-straight wins. Both those streaks include wins over 3rd place Austin Peay, 4th place Tennessee Tech, and 6th place Tennessee State. The last time the Eagles went to Murray, they were embarrassed in a 30-point loss. This is, of course, the rematch of last year’s OVC title game as well, which propelled Murray to the NCAA tournament. There’s a lot of history behind these two schools in the past few years.
As for the Racers, the first key is stopping Kenneth Faried. Last time they faced, Faried ended the game with 21 points, 10 rebounds in the Eagles win. The lineup will be different this time, with Ed Daniel expected to get his 5th start of the year, leaving Ivan Aska coming off the bench. The Racers aren’t a very deep team, so fouls could be a problem if Faried can draw some early fouls.
Inside defense hasn’t been the big problem for the Racers this season, it’s 3-point defense. 3-pointers helped Morehead starve off runs by the Racers in Morehead, and the Racers have allowed 38.5% shooting from 3-range this season, a terrible statistic since this is considered to be a guard oriented team. Despite this problem, the Racers actually lead the OVC in scoring defense. They do like to play at a slower pace, which makes it hard (read: impossible) to run away from teams, but they’ve had fewer problems closing out wins as getting off to a fast start. Many people point to their lack of scoring (with games often in the 50’s and 60’s) as a lack of offense, but the Racers actually have the most points per possession (1.065) in the OVC.
For the Eagles, we know that getting the “probable” OVC Player-of-the-Year Faried going is key, (let’s all admit it, he’s already won it) but last time out is was Demonte Harper‘s 22 that lead the team in beating the Racers. As a team, the Eagles shot a blistering 59.5 percent, including going 14-22 in the second half to close the game. Free Throw shootings was a bit of a problem tho, only hitting 18-29 from the charity stripe; For the season, Morehead is hitting only 65% from the line.
Morehead and Murray have one thing in common: Defense comes first. Morehead leads the league in fewest points allowed per possession (.92), and defensive FG percentage. (42.2%) They also lead the league in rebounding margin. (+8.6)
Game time is 8 tonight at the CFSB Center in Murray. The game can also be seen on ESPN-U.