Maybe it was the cameras. Maybe it was the seemingly inferior opponent. (Record-wise, at least) Maybe it was just Jacksonville State’s slow and steady style. Or maybe it was just another off night. Whatever the reason, the Racers were just as frigid inside the CFSB Center as the temperature was outside for much of the night. But as we’ve seen throughout the season, they made just enough plays to get their 17th straight win, and are now off to their best start in 87 years after a 66-55 win over Jacksonville State.
In a contest marred by more fouls than field goals, Donte Poole hit 12-14 from the free throw line, leading all scorers with 21 points, one of 4 Racers in double figures. The 3-point shot, which has been friendly to the Racers all season, proved to be a challenge, as the Racers hit just 2-11 from behind the arc, with Saturday’s long ball darling Isaiah Canaan finishing 0-4 from behind the arc, and just 3-11 from the field.
It’s a historic night for the Racers, who have broke numerous records over this undefeated start, each one seemingly more impressive than the last. But as we’ve seen out of this team all season, they’re hardly content with what they’ve done so far.
“I didn’t talk to the team about it after the game,” head coach Steve Prohm said, “just complemented them on winning the basketball game and getting ready for Tennessee Tech. We don’t have time right now, with the way our schedule is…we don’t have time to really celebrate achievements right now. We need to appreciate everything we’ve done now to this point, but these guys have a chance to do something really special, so we need to stay in the moment, appreciate it, and continue to move forward.”
Going up against one of the best defenses in the OVC, there was no doubt that the Racers wouldn’t get as many good looks as they’ve seen in other night, but rule No. 1 of not getting upset is forcing other teams to play your style of basketball. Tonight the Racers allowed Jacksonville State to control the tempo and style of the game through the entire 1st half. Despite forcing 12 1st half turnovers, the Racers only managed 25 total points in the half, on 8-23 shooting, and much of that credit has to go to the Jacksonville State defense.
But early in the game, the Racers almost looked they were going for show on a few possessions of solid offense. Ed Daniel got an early dunk off of a steal, but just a few possessions later, the Racers tried to lob an alley oop to Canaan, only to watch the attempted slam fly out of bounds. The Racers made 2 more big slams in the first half, including one from Brandon Garrett in transition.
Isaiah got a little frustrated, and he can’t do that. He’s our best player, he’s our leader, he’s our best offensive player…We just need to stay in the flow of our offense and let other people make the plays, and sometimes, like tonight, be an assist man”
Outside of those SportsCenter highlights, the Racers would only hit 35% from the field in the half. As the Racers have seen from many an opponent, Jacksonville State came out with a game plan to stop Canaan, the Racers leading scorer, and they executed it well. Canaan hit just 1-7 from the field in the first half, and missed 2 good look 3’s, shots you couldn’t have imagined him missing on Saturday against Austin Peay. For the night, Canaan finished with just 10 points, even struggling somewhat at the free throw line. On the whole, the offense was much less aggressive for the first 20 minutes, and struggled getting the ball to the rim.
That problem wouldn’t extend into the second half. The Racers clearly made the adjustment at the half, and were able to drive the ball to the basket, and slowly extend their 2 point halftime lead. But a tightly called game from the referees made getting into a rhythm in the second half a monumental challenge. 9 fouls were called before the 1st media timeout of the second half, with the teams combining for 14 free throws in just over 4 minutes. It wasn’t the best night from the charity stripe for the Racers either, who hit just 69% on the night.
Next up for the Racers is a rematch of last year’s OVC Tournament semi-finals, as the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles travel to a sold out CFSB Center. Murray State was upset in their only game in Nashville, something players like Donte Poole remember.
“Everyone remembers that game that was here last year. Coming in everyone was expecting we’re going to beat them, we’re going to beat them. Some maybe was looking past it to Morehead, so they came in and kind of smacked us…It’s kind of like a revenge game. We always think about that but with that being said, we have something they want right now.”