[The Stat Lines] EKU: Jaron Jones, 23 points, 6 rebounds
Murray St.: Donte Poole, 22 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals
[The Story] When a team that loves shooting the 3 doesn’t hit a high percentage from behind the arc, you have to handicap their chances of winning. But EKU went on the attack on offense, driving the basketball against a Murray State interior missing one of their starting forwards, and used multiple looks on defense, including a rather effective half-court trap, to try and disrupt the Racers offense.
But in the end it was a 10-minute stretch in the 1st half where the Colonels weren’t true to themselves, and tried to run with the Racers, that put the Colonels in a big hole. But the Racers went cold shooting in the second half, only making 5 of their first 21 shot attempts. A shooting and technical foul on Jewuan Long late in the half put the Colonels within four. But clutch play down the stretch at home, and a couple of key missed 3-point attempts by the Colonels, allowed the Racers to secure their 15th straight win to start the season.
[Eastern Kentucky] If you’re the Colonels, you have to be feeling about as good as you can about losing. EKU proved that can compete with the nationally ranked Racers, and gave themselves a reasonable chance to knock off Murray State in front of 5,852 at the CFSB Center.
Jaron Jones continues to be impressive, scoring 23 points on 8-12 shooting from the floor, but as has been the case this year, he didn’t get a lot of help. D’Mitri Riggs added 16 points (half of which came from the free throw line) but no other Colonel got into double digits.
The Colonels clearly took advantage of a Racers squad missing their leading rebounder, winning the battle of the boards 35-26 thanks to 12 rebounds by Eric Stutz. But while they were able to get second chances, they couldn’t convert, scoring just 9 points on 13 offensive rebounds. One reason, many of those rebounds were long rebounds off missed 3’s.
And this once again brings us to part of the Colonels problem this season, 3-point shooting, which hurt them in a bad way tonight. On at least 2 possessions down the stretch, the Colonels missed a critical 3 that would have cut into the lead. Those misses led to long rebounds for the Racers, who were able to get a run out on the other end. For the game, the Colonels finished just 4-17 from behind the arc.
And it was turnovers down the stretch that really helped seal the deal for the Racers. It’s rare to say a 13 turnover game is a “bad game” but for the Colonels, who pride themselves as one of the best ball control teams in the nation, it is.
[Murray State] The natural reaction to tonight’s game is to over react, and say the Racers aren’t a top-25 team without Ivan Aska, which I heard. But this was a classic let-down game, which every team has every year. The Racers came out flat to start both halves, and didn’t have that same killer instinct we’re used to seeing.
But despite playing (in my opinion) some of their worst basketball all season, especially defensively, the Racers still escaped with a win. And when you’re having an off game like the Racers did tonight, sometimes escaping with the win is all that’s important.
I’m not certain where, or how much, Aska was truly missed tonight, although I think it’s clear that he was. (Go back to the rebounding numbers I mentioned earlier.) But his replacement, Latreze Mushatt pulled down 10 boards of his own, but only scored 2 points. They clearly lacked that go to guy in the paint, and Ed Daniel just isn’t going to be it. Daniel did finish with 16 points, but also had 5 turnovers, clearly not used to handling the ball as much as he had to tonight.
Where they might have really missed him was on defense. As I said earlier, Jaron Jones has his way with the Racers defense much of the night, and I have to think that if Aska was playing, they would have moved Jewuan Long off of Jones and let Aska defend him.
[They said it…] “We knew coming into this game that we were one of the best 2 teams in the OVC. We were hoping we were the best team, obviously we proved tonight that we weren’t” -EKU Head Coach Jeff Neubauer
“I’m always encouraged about a win. I can never be concerned about a win. No matter if we win by 50, or 10, or 4 there’s always things we can do better.” – Murray State guard Donte Poole
“We weren’t as disciplined tonight as we were in the past.” – Murray State Head Coach Steve Prohm
[Final Thoughts] You had to know the Racers would have a night like this, what you didn’t know is whether they would still win when they did. Tonight, they made just enough plays to secure their 15th straight win to start the season.. But many people are going to look at the Racers as wounded, and no doubt Austin Peay fans will be like sharks sensing blood in the ocean. Aska was missed tonight; It’s likely he’ll be even more missed on Saturday.
Eastern Kentucky may be near the top of the OVC standings all season long. Due to the unbalanced schedules in the OVC this season, they won’t get another chance at the Racers until March in Nashville at the OVC tournament, and after tonight, I have little doubt they’ll get that chance. Jaron Jones fantastic season continues, and the Colonels defense and rebounding were surprisingly solid. What remains to be seen is how good are the shooters? They had their chances tonight, and simply missed too many shots down the stretch.