Tennessee State came into tonight on a 5 game win streak. Murray State came in to the night 23-0, but with some shaky wins as of late. Turns out, the hotter team won. Despite 31 points from Isaiah Canaan, the Racers couldn’t keep the dream season alive, and fall in front of their home crowd for the first time this year.
While Canaan was hot from the field, the team’s offensive execution was anything but at times. The Racers turned over the ball 18 times, including 6 from Canaan and 4 from both Jewuan Long and Donte Poole, and went a 7 and a half minute stretch in the first half without a field goal. When they needed buckets late in the game, they couldn’t even get off shots.
In a season that’s seen a lot of teams challenge the Racers, even in Murray, the Tigers were the first to finish the game. Where as the normal script has been for teams to fall late in the game, and allow Murray State to make a big run, it was Tennessee State executing down the stretch, erasing a double-digit 2nd half deficit. Late in the game, they kept Canaan from getting good looks, and held on to get their first ever win over a ranked opponent.
What this means for the Tigers: This win, and the story coming out of it, should be about the Tigers. They’re the team that won, they’re the team that that took down undefeated Murray State. But that’s probably not going to be the narrative out of this game, but it’s something I want to examine.
One of the topics Tigers head coach John Cooper spoke about in the post game news conference was respect. He spoke of Murray’s history, noting that his school didn’t have the same history, and that this was a step on their goal of showing they can win, and win the right way. Despite the fact that Tennessee State has been on a roll as of late, you could argue they haven’t gotten the attention they probably should have. Wins like this will have schools noticing the Tigers more. Now, the question is what do they do with it.
Short term, with Tennessee Tech losing inexplicably at home to Eastern Illinois tonight, the Tigers appear to be in a 2-team race for the 2-seed in Nashville, with SEMO, a team they just beat on their home floor less than a week ago. That’s the only meeting between those two schools this season, meaning TSU hold the tie breaker over SEMO, as well as a half game lead in the standings. Both schools still have to face Murray State again, both teams face Jacksonville State, but TSU must face Tennessee Tech, where as SEMO has Austin Peay and SIU Edwardsville. The road appears much easier for the Redhawks, but they must finish a win ahead of the Tigers to get the 2-seed.
Long term, this game probably doesn’t have a lot of impact without something to follow it. If Tennessee State can beat the Racers again, in Nashville, and make the NCAA tournament, then they can build off of this type of win. Because they’re not just going to be the team that beat the Racers, they’ll be the team that beat the once top-10 ranked Racers twice. If not, they’ll be the team that beat the Racers, sure, but the argument can be made it was a “meaningless” regular-season game, or that the Racers were looking ahead to Austin Peay, or that Tennessee State got “lucky.” For the record, all three of those excuses are horrible, and I’m not saying that any of the three are true. But they’ll be made.
What this means for the Racers: It means…well, I’m not wholly sure what it means, because it could mean so many things:
It could mean the OVC is better than people thought. But, there’s not a whole lot of evidence to support that argument.
It could mean the pressure finally got to the Racers. A completely unprovable argument unless a player or coach says it, which they didn’t.
It could mean the Racers weren’t ever that good to begin with. But, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary.
And that’s just 3 of probably 10 arguments you’ll hear over the next few days, and weeks. So what do I think it means?
I think pressure had something to do with it, but I think the rest of OVC might be getter better faster than Murray State has. Racers head coach Steve Prohm has been quoted as saying there’s no point in losing, but I actually somewhat disagree with that statement. Losing can, at least it should, motivate you to get better. (Although too much of it can do the opposite) Winning just doesn’t have that same effect. Murray State has gotten better as this season has progressed. Tennessee State has gotten a lot better, and I just don’t think you can say that about the Racers. Also, being that team trying to knock off the undefeated team, that motivates you. While being undefeated can also motivate, it comes with that extra pressure that you don’t get when you’re the underdog.
That last paragraph can be taken as an attack on Prohm as a coach, or the players, and it’s not intended as either. Murray State is still a great team, still in the hunt for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, still very likely to win their 3rd straight OVC regular season title. It’s not necessarily the coaches or the players fault, simply a consequence of the situation. Prohm has shown he’s an amazing coach this season, has this team absolutely buying in to his philosophy that works. The players have been outstanding, not only on the court, but in how they’ve acted outside the arena as well. This is a fundamental problem with every team that wins 10, 20 games in a row, not specific to the Racers for any given reason.
What matters now is how the Racers respond. They host an Austin Peay coming off a much worse loss against future OVC competitor Belmont on Monday. If Murray State lays an egg, and loses back-to-back games, there may be a big problem. If not, I still put the Racers as the team to beat come OVC tournament time.
A lesson in how (not) to execute down the stretch: The Racers execution the last 6 minutes of the game was…well it was bad. The last :11 seconds, though, almost defy belief. In case you need a refresher…
First, I’m not surprised Prohm didn’t call a timeout before Long’s inbound was intercepted. While I’m not shocked, I still don’t understand why. One line of reasoning he’s used in the past is that calling timeouts only fires up the opposing crowd. Not when you’re at home, in front of 8,000+ mostly friendly fans. Not when there’s :11 left, and you just got a stop on defense on a walking violation.A timeout actually might fire up your home crowd (something that was lacking at times…) And I could understand not calling the timeout more if the Racers had been executing down the stretch. Calling a timeout might have just hurt their rhythm, and I get that. Except the Racers had no rhythm. They committed 5 turnovers in the last 3:43, and took just 3 shots from the field. They were shaken. They weren’t expecting to be down in the last 2 minutes. That was the ideal time to take a timeout.
It’s not fair to blame the Racers loss on the last :11 seconds, because they had a 13-point lead with 14:45, and had they executed better before the end of the game, they wouldn’t have been in that position to begin with. But they were. And they looked absolutely lost.
And that’s only play number 1. The Canaan turnover was (by far) the best play of the bunch. He simply lost the handle, and that happens sometimes. Good defense by TSU, knowing Canaan was likely to keep the ball, which he did. But then there’s Daniel full court heave. Prohm said in post game that was the scripted play, and that Daniel had made the pass in practice, and that it should have only gone to about the free throw line. Alright, so it wasn’t executed well. But why not give it to a guy at half court. 3+ seconds left, time for a dribble, and a good shot. You needed a 3 anyway, because you were down 3. Why script a play that if run right puts the ball inside the arc. I don’t get it.
And here’s the thing: this isn’t the first time. The Racers had a 9-point lead with just 2 minutes left against Memphis, and couldn’t break the Tigers full court defense and nearly gave it away. If the Racers are in a tight contest in the last minute of the game, I’m less than confident that the best offensive team in the OVC with one of the most dynamic players in the conference in a decade will come out with the win. And that’s just not good.
That one foul call…: There were so many things wrong with the flagrant foul called on Ed Daniel in the second half. For one, it wasn’t Daniel. It was Canaan. Second, they used a replay monitor, and still called it wrong. Third, Kenny Moore deserves a Golden Globe for best acting in a television drama. Which leads me to No. 4: That wasn’t a flagrant foul. That might not have even been a foul.
Bench Play: Tennessee State got 30 points from their bench tonight, which was huge for pulling off this upset. Kenny Moore and Jordan Cyphers had quality minutes from the bench, and both finished with double-digit points. The Racers, who usually get good contributions from their bench, got just 10. Brandon Garrett, in particular, didn’t have a good game. Zay Jackson did a great job driving the ball in the first half, and finding the open man. He had 3 assists in the first half, just 1 in the second. The exception was Latreze Mushatt who has grown so much in Aska’s absence.
Offensive Rebounding: In the first half, Murray State had 6 offensive rebounds to TSU’s 2. In the second? 8-1, in favor of the Tigers.
Ending on good notes: Okay, a lot of negative in this post, so let’s end with some positives.
- Canaan should be a national Player of the Year candidate. I hope that the Racers not being undefeated doesn’t cost him a chance at that. 31 points tonight, 7-10 shooting from behind the arc. He carried the Racers on his shoulders, like a leader should.
- Kenny Moore had another great night off the bench. He’s been a better player since coming back from suspension, but it doesn’t hurt that TSU has been so much better as well. Don’t know if he’s better than M.J. Rhett to become a starter, but if not, he’s a great 6th man to have.
- Mushatt had a great night off the bench as well, as I mentioned above. But I felt the need to mention it again. He tied for a game-high 8 rebounds, despite just playing 18 minutes, and also added 8 points.
- Robert Covington hit big shots, but didn’t have an amazing night. Yes, I know, 17 points and 8 rebounds, and I’m calling it not amazing. But he hit a huge 3 down the stretch to push the Tigers lead to 2 possessions. From there, they never looked back.
There will likely be even more on this in the first word, if 1,900+ words aren’t enough for you.