On the road, wins aren’t easy. Tonight was more proof of that simple statement. The Racers faced an off shooting night, another sell out, and the pressure of being undefeated, but come out with their 23rd win in 23 games, beating UT Martin 65-58.
It’s hard to call a 42% shooting performance from the field “an off shooting night,” but considering the Racers, who are ranked in the top 10% in the nation in 3-point percentage hit just 3 of 17 from deep, I feel it’s an accurate statement. In fact, it was the worst 3-point percentage the Racers have shot all season. Isaiah Canaan hits just 4-12 from the field, Donte Poole 1-7. The Racers put together a team scoring effort much like we were accustomed to seeing last year, with 3 players tying with team-high 11 points, and 4 others pitching in at least 5.
UT Martin seemed to do everything well but shoot the basketball. They Skyhawks pulled down 21 offensive rebounds, only turned the ball over 13 times against a Murray team know for forcing them, had 6 blocks, including 2 against Canaan on drives in the paint. But they shot under 35%, and go just 2-15 from deep in the loss. Mike Liabo had a rough game, shooting 2-17, 1-8 from deep. After the game, Liabo tweeted, “Let my team down tonight…” He might be a little harsh on himself, because for the most part, he wasn’t taking bad looks. He just simply couldn’t get them to fall. But Dane Smith has one of his best games of the year, putting up his first double-double since November, finishing with a game high 24 points and 11 rebounds.
We’ll call it a “Physical, loosely called” game: …but just to be nice. The refs let both teams play, and seemed to call (or not call, in this case) fouls equally on both ends. And normally I’m all for letting teams play, but at times, this seemed a little overboard. But that tone was set early by the refs, and both teams had plenty of time to adjust to the calls, and for the most part, it seemed like both teams did well.
Do “Moral Victories” even matter at this point for the Skyhawks? One of the arguments made when an underdog plays a team close is that they win a “moral victory,” with the idea being that a closer-than-expected loss can boost a team much like an upset would. James doesn’t see it that way. “We don’t really believe in moral victories,” he said after the game. “We think that we can play with anybody.” He says they hope to learn from the game, but essentially they expect to win, which is great. Losing by 7 shouldn’t ever be a goal, no matter what team you’re playing.
The Problem with the 3-point shot for the Racers: The 3-point shot has been crucial to the Racers success during this run, but in the last two games, we’ve seen the Racers go through stretches where they couldn’t get it to fall. The problem, as it is with many teams, is that those long rebounds are leading to easy run outs on the other end of the court. This isn’t a problem that’s exclusive to the Racers by any means, but when they go long stretches when they aren’t hitting the deep shots, (like 2-12 in the first half tonight) it’s hard for the Racers to hold onto any momentum. What we’re not seeing is Murray State getting the same results on opponents 3-point shooting. UT Martin only hit 1-10 from 3-point range in the first half, but the Racers weren’t getting the same points in transition. Am I suggesting the Racers stop shooting the 3? Absolutely not. But when the Racers are struggling, the 3-ball hasn’t been the shot to bail them out too often. It’s great for that KO punch, but you have to often soften up an opponent first.
Making the most of 2nd chances: Not all offensive rebounds are made equal. Case in point: Both the Skyhawks and Racers had 8 offensive rebounds in the first half. But where Murray State got 13 2nd chance points, UT Martin only got 6. Some of this can be attributed to the Skyhawks 34% shooting in the first 20 minutes. But whereas 8 offensive rebounds is a great number for just one half of basketball, points are truly more important than rebounds, and 6 2nd chance points in 20 minutes isn’t a great number.
Ed Daniel gets into foul trouble…again: For the second straight game, Daniel is forced to sit out much of the first half on the bench. This to me is mostly a minor issue. The Racers, when healthy, have relatively good depth at forward. Would you rather him be in the game, of course you would. But this team isn’t built like SEMO, where there’s a huge drop off when you start pulling in forwards off the bench. But he needs to stop making the bad fouls, the ones 30+ feet away from the bucket. That has to stop.
Who was the home team again?: While I do commend the UT Martin fans for showing up and supporting their team, I do get a little concerned when the road fans can fake out your own player with a fake shot clock countdown. Being here is great, and I know the team, and the school appreciates you being here. But go that extra mile, especially when the No. 9 team in the country is in your house.
The “Style Points” argument: …is going to be it’s own Commentary in the morning. The short version: Expecting a team to win by 30 is ridiculous.
Props to the UTM Staff: Let me begin by saying I don’t get treated poorly by any measure at any school I’ve been to. But when I come to UT Martin, their staff always goes the extra mile, bending over backwards to help me in anyway I could possible imagine. It’s not the greatest facility, but it’s one of my favorite places to go because I always know how I’m going to be treated here. And again, no where I’ve been have I been treated badly. But it’s always just a little “extra” good (and yes, I realize that sounds horrible and probably isn’t grammatically correct) when I come to Martin.