After two back and forth battles during the regular season, many people expected nothing less for the third. The Racers won both regular season matchups, but trailed in the second half in both.
Tonight…was nothing like those games. Murray State leads the last 37 minutes of the game, and were never really threatened on their way to a 78-58 win in the OVC semifinals.
It wasn’t for a lack of play by Tennessee Tech senior Kevin Murphy. Murphy led all scorers with 31 points on 11-21 shooting, but just didn’t get any help. Jud Dillard, usually a consistent double digit scorer, finished with 8. Zac Swansey, who had 12 assists a night ago, finished with just 1, and 6 of Tennessee Tech’s 19 turnovers. As a team, Tech shot just 39% from the field, and even worse from behind the arc.
On Murray State’s side Isaiah Canaan was spectacular, as expected, but unlike TTU, Murray got a lot of help from the rest of the players, including 25 points from Donte Poole, and 11 points and 4 assists (really) from Ed Daniel. As a team, Murray State hit 55% from the field.
So…that’s answers any and all motivation questions, eh? Racers head coach Steve Prohm addressed it umpromted in the post game press conference, which leads me to believe he was quite tired of people (i.e. me) questioning if his team would come out ready to play. As has been the case the entire season, the answer was, unquestionably, yes.
This teams wants to win this tournament as badly as the other seven teams that have to win this tournament to keep the season alive. (CBI / CIT not withstanding.) I don’t know who gets more credit for that, the coach or the players. But they all deserve credit because there are few teams in the nation that have come out with their level of motivation all season. Hence why few teams have their kind of record this season.
All three games followed the same formula, and ended with the same result: If you don’t remember history, you are doomed to repeat it…or something like that at least. All three games with the Racers, Tennessee Tech struggled to hold onto the basketball, and sent the Racers to the free throw line much more than they were sent. Murray is a good team (obvious statement of the night) but I feel that Tennessee Tech never really made any changes to how they played the Racers. At least, if they did, it didn’t have much of an effect on the results – 3 losses.
One of Ed Daniel’s best nights: 11 points, 4 rebounds doesn’t sound like an impressive stat line. He also drew at least 2 charges defensively, had 4 assists and just one turnover, and shot a very efficient 4-5 from the line. Daniel isn’t a player who ever shows up big on the stat sheet, but always has a positive contribution to the game.
Did Tennessee Tech underperform this season? Probably. Statistically, they had 3 of the better players in the league. But it just didn’t result in wins as often as it feels like it should. Some of that may have been the coaching transition, (although that seems odd, given Payne’s long time involvement with the program) maybe the expectations were just too high, maybe some of it was just bad luck. Tennessee Tech always competed, they just didn’t always “win.” Basketball is a funny sport like that sometimes.
This was simply unwatchable at times: …and it wasn’t (entirely) the teams fault. The teams weren’t allowed to play. That being said, you have to adjust. The refs set the tone, horrible as it was, in the game’s first minutes. You have to notice that. Neither team did. This is the result.
But the kicker, this tweet from Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports:
“Tell you one thing: the playing and coaching is a lot better in the OVC than the officiating.”
Murray State should get a protected (i.e. top 4 seed): …but they probably won’t. Don’t have a great, epic explanation to explain it, other that it just probably won’t happen. There’s just too many “excuses” being thrown around against the Racers.
The RPI isn’t high enough. (26 not high enough?)
They didn’t play anybody. (They beat who they played, and can’t help that Memphis and UAB didn’t live up to expectations this year)
They play in the OVC. (Hey, the Pac-12 isn’t exactly a basketball mecca this year)
Canaan wouldn’t be this good in the SEC. (Pointless, unprovable argument.)
And you don’t have to buy all of those. Heck, you don’t have to buy any of them. But I just feel someone will. Someone on the committee will. And someone on the committee will want to send a “big school” team to Nashville as a 5 or 6-seed, not the Racers.
I hope I’m wrong. Murray State deserves to be a protected seed, and play within a 2, or 3-hour drive for their fans.
I’m just not expecting it.