The battle between rivals Murray State and Austin Peay always is much more than just a game. To the fans and alumni, you always want to defeat your rival. Saturday night, something else was on the line. The early lead in the OVC’s West Division and the last undefeated team in the division. At the end of the night it was the Racers walking away with a zero in their OVC loss column as they defeated the Governors 89-67.
For Austin Peay, the last three years have been a nightmare. Not only have they struggled winning games, they hadn’t beaten their rivals. This year things looked like they could change. Gone was the Murray State point guard that had give Austin Peay fans sleeping problems, the Govs hadn’t lost in conference and were .500 on year.
If you told Head Coach Dave Loos that Racers’ leading scorer would be Jeffery Moss and four Murray State players were in foul trouble, he might have taken it. That’s what happened in reality but the Governors were unable to take advantage.
Facing the Racers largest crowd of the season packed into the CFSB Center, it was nearly two minutes before the scoreboard board saw points as both teams looked to establish their forwards. When the scoring began it went in the favor of the Racers who saw Moss and Jarvis Williams score five points apiece in the game’s first six minutes fueling a 12-4 Racers run. Things looked like it would get worse for Austin Peay when Chris Horton picked up his second foul of the contest but the Govs rebounded going on a 14-5 run to get their first lead of the contest as Preston Herring blocked Moss setting up a Travis Betran fast break layup.
Austin Peay then went cold over the final 6:30 and the Racers took advantage.
A major reason for the Govs problems was the paint presence of Williams. Williams was only credited with two blocks in the first half but his presence was enough to make the offense go cold. Over the nearly seven minute stretch the Racers used a 22-6 run to take a 12-point advantage into the locker room.
For Austin Peay it couldn’t come soon enough as they made just three of their last 14 shots in the half. The loss of Horton due to early fouls was noticeable but Will Triggs and Travis Betran did their best to keep the boat afloat.
The second half a nightmare scenario that Dave Loos and Austin Peay as Loos called timeout 47 seconds into the half as Dexter Fields scored on back-to-back 3’s. After the timeout a 3 by Betran cut the Racers lead to nine and a comeback seemed possible. Minutes later the Governors found themselves defeated on the sidelines. The energy shown in the first half was gone early in the second half as the entire bench kept their heads down. Fouls continued to add up and every basket that went in was answered by their rivals.
Chris Horton who leads the OVC in blocked shots and is third in rebounding, battled foul trouble the whole night and was limited to 15 minutes. In his time sophomore was 2 of 9 with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks and 5 points.
“We are used to Chris being back there to block shots and we sometimes get in that mode where we need him,” Zavion Williams said. “I felt like there was an opporunity as a senior to step up and take that role,” Triggs said. Triggs finished with a team-high 17 points on 6 of 14 shooting.
So what do we take away from the Governors’ loss to Murray State? You can make the argument that if not for fouls this was a different game (and I’m sure Peay fans will make it) but unlike the Racers who have shown the will to not give up in games, the Governors did with 14 minutes to go.Horton is still one of the best forwards in the conference, Triggs is a great compliment and Betran can carry his team when they need him to.
Defense is the problem for Austin Peay. From closing out, to covering ball reverses to transition. This is what has kept Austin Peay in the cellar for the past few years. While they won’t be there this season, there is still improvements from this team before they can be seen as a contender for the conference and divisional title.
“It was a struggle for us because we were able to knock down shots but on the other end it was a struggle,” Triggs said. “I think our defensive intensity is what we need for work on.” Loos added to the comments.
“I did not like our defense in a couple of ways,” Loos said. “Our defensive transition was bad and they got a number of clean looks because we didn’t get back. It was an effort thing and also it was our shot selection. There was a number of guys that got to the rim and I can understand getting by the initial line of defense but they were passing a lot of people.”
Austin Peay will look to rebound from the sixth straight loss to their rivals next Thursday when they travel to SIUE.