Night’s don’t get much more special than this: In front of 8,825 fans, on senior night, with Dick Vitale in the house, a night that would see the Racers symbolically cut down the nets for winning their 3rd straight Ohio Valley Conference crown, the Racers never yielded the lead in a dominating win over No. 21/16 St. Mary’s.
Being senior night, it was only fitting that a senior would get the team off to a great start. Donte Poole drove the ball to the basket for an easy layup on the first play of the game, and 2 possessions later, hit a 3 that put the Racers ahead 5-2. Poole would score 8 of the Racers first 15 points, scoring all 11 of his points in the first half. Isaiah Canaan, who was mostly silent in the first half, made up for the lack of Poole’s scoring, hitting 17 of his 23 points, finishing 9-13 from the field.
The story coming into the game for the Gaels was whether Matthew Dellavedova would play, much less start. He started the game, and played 38 minutes, but was held to just 17 points on 6-13 shooting, going 0-4 from the 3-point arc, on shots that didn’t look like they had a chance the second they left his hand. Dellavedova still made some amazing shots, but it’s hard to believe he was at 100%. The Gaels trailed by 9 at the half despite shooting 46% from the field. In the second, they couldn’t even shoot 30%, yet somehow were only outscored by 5 despite the Racers 67% shooting from the field in the same half.
So Murray State is a NCAA tournament lock now, right?: Well, here’s the thing. St. Mary’s is looking a little more like Memphis. On paper, those look like amazing wins, until you realize that Memphis isn’t even going to win the C-USA this year, and St. Mary’s might lose the WCC, and is looking less and less like a tournament team every time they hit the court. At the end of the season, it’s possible the Racers best win all season (RPI-wise, at least) will be Southern Miss. in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout. While this was a nice win, and will help the Racers chances, I still don’t feel comfortable calling the Racers a lock. They win at Tennessee State on Thursday, and then we can talk lock.
The role players shine: If you were following my tweets on Twitter, I became very concerned during the first half when the Racers had 3 of the bench players in the game at the same time. The offense suddenly became stale, and I was starting to get flashbacks to, well, every other time the Racers have jumped out to a quick lead only to watch teams come back on them. But those concerns didn’t last long. Every player on this team seemed to make big play after big play, from a rare Zay Jackson three, to not 1, but 2 blocks by Garrett. Surprisingly, the one player who I’m used to see have big games, Latreze Mushatt, didn’t have an amazing game, but the production from those around him easily made up for it.
The difference between good defense and bad offense: Let’s be honest, St. Mary’s didn’t play that sharp on offense. A lot of that was due to the Racers pressure, and the refs allowance (in the first half at least) to let the Racers play extremely physical. More of that was on Dellavedova’s ankle. But even when St. Mary’s could get the ball on the block, they couldn’t finish. And most of the game, the Racers were able to hold the Gaels to one possession, allowing just 10 offensive rebounds to a team that’s much larger than they are. And I can tell you that 3 of those came on one second half possession. It wasn’t any better when the Gaels got open shots on the perimeter, going just 2-14 from deep.
Can we get WCC refs? They had their moments, sure, but the two teams combined for just 20 free throws. I didn’t know you could do that.
Tonight’s Atmosphere: I always want to end these on good notes, and there’s no better note than I can think of. From a person that’s often been critical of fans in many OVC venues, the Racers fans tonight were as loud and as passionate as you could expect. For the 3 Racers seniors who played their last game in the CFSB Center tonight, it couldn’t have been any better. The fans were as loud as I’ve heard them all year, and they didn’t stop. Top notch, all the way.