Sitting in a the weight room after the game, a visibly upset Isaiah Cannan said what any leader should say.
“I don’t have any excuses, I just got to make ’em.”
Cannan was responding to a question about his shots coming up short. The Racers sharpshooter was just 8-21 on the night, the fifth consecutive game the senior shot below 40% from the field. One of those misses, a potential game tying shot with 26 seconds to go.
“That’s pretty much the bottom line,” Canaan added. “People can say what’s wrong, or this and that, but I don’t have any excuses. I’m the leader of this team, I’ve got to make them.”
With their third loss of the year, one might get the feeling that the sky was falling in Murray, Kentucky. We haven’t even made it to the new year, but the Racers already had more losses than a season ago. For the first time in nearly three calendar years, the Racers had lost two straight regular season games.
But maybe worse of all, not even home is safe for the Racers anymore. In front of over 43-hundred fans, the Racers let a lead late in the game slip away. And for the second straight game, the preseason All-American couldn’t pull his team through to a win.
There are a host of teams that would be thrilled to be 9-3, many in the Ohio Valley Conference. But this isn’t most schools. This is a school that last year was the last remaining undefeated team. This is a school that has expects to make the NCAA Tournament every year. And this is a school that feels like they are on the cusp of breaking out from under the shadow of their in-state brethren.
“I told my team it’s not about 4-peating,” head coach Steve Prohm said of the Racers beginning their conference season. “It’s not about winning four in a row. It’s about this team’s quest to try to win one championship.”
Then why does 9-3 feel like 3-9? Why does this record, one that meets or exceeds the Racers 12-game records in every year during the Billy Kennedy era feel so bad?
Why does Isaiah “have the weight of the world” on his shoulders, as Prohm would tell us.
It’s because the Racers aren’t competing against Valpariaso, or Dayton, or even the OVC. They’re competing against a battle that’s impossible to win. They’re competing against themselves. They’re competing against 31-2.
One of the things Murray State spoke of last year, and Prohm continues to discuss now, is that it’s all about the next game. You can’t look ahead, you have to be focused on what’s right in front of you. And it’s hard to argue that the Racers haven’t done exactly that in Prohm’s season and a half tenure at Murray.
But there’s a certain shortsightedness to that idea. The idea that you live in a vacuum, and can focus on just one element and block out all of the rest. Things like pressure, which the Racers were clearly under last year, and are this year as well. Pressure isn’t created one game at a game, it’s a culmination of factors over an extended period of time. For Murray State, this pressure has been building, and building, and there’s been no release.
Even the end of the last season didn’t end the pressure. The idea existed that the Racers could have, and should have gone farther in the NCAA Tournament, that this year’s team had all the pieces in place to meet or exceed last year’s performance, those factors don’t simply disappear.
And this year’s team has shown, at moments, they’re capable of being that team. They’re capable of beating almost everyone. Despite three losses, expectations amongst Racer Nation remain higher than ever.
Taking it one game at a time is great for focus. But you can’t simply narrow your focus so much that you’re missing everything around you. This team consists of six freshman, who are playing a role few expected. Six seniors, who had so much success and feel as if they are expected to replicate it, and have taken that burden upon themselves to make that happen.
It’s no longer one game at a time. It’s not even one season. The shadow from last year’s amazing season will be felt for years, maybe even decades to come.
And you can’t deal with it by just focusing on the next opponent.
Make no mistake, this year’s Murray State team is special. But out of everyone, they need to know that.