Murray State’s record, now 17-9, 12-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference, speaks for itself. The Racers, easily the best in the Western Division and tied for the best in the conference, don’t need to prove why they’re a threat in Nashville with one week to go in the regular season.
But they did prove it. Again.
Behind a sensational night from freshman Cameron Payne, Murray State led throughout in a 69-58 win over potential OVC Tournament semifinal opponent Morehead State. The final score is far from indicative of just how dominant Murray State was, aside from a short period at the start of the second half, and “garbage time” in the final minutes.
“It was great to see us, from where we’ve been in November, December,” Murray State head coach Steve Prohm said. “We had three good days of practice, we really did. And I felt we’d play good tonight from the way we practiced.”
The Eagles struggled from the field, and best team in the league at getting to the free-throw line were held to just five attempts on a night seemingly everything went the Racers way.
Payne, a virtual lock for freshman of the year, stated his case for Most Outstanding Player in the first half, scoring 18 points on 7-11 shooting in the opening 20 minutes, despite a clear focus to tightly guard, perhaps even intimidate the young guard.
“I’ve got a feeling he was trying to get in my head,” Payne said of Morehead State guard Kareem Storey. “I’m not a freshman anymore. Everyone in the locker room say I’m not a freshman anymore. He wanted to get in my head, but I wasn’t worried about it. I was just going to keep playing.”
After Murray State jumped out to a 40-23 halftime lead, Morehead State opened the second half on an 8-0 run. While urging the team to play defense from the bench, and outright yelling to the bench on at least one occasion, Prohm says he felt it was important to allow his team to make the adjustment on the floor.
“I wanted them to figure it out,” Prohm said. “They needed to figure it out. 14 games into conference play, they need to figure it out without me calling a timeout.”
The Eagles only pulled as close as nine, before Murray State would go on a run of their own, stretching out the lead to 24 with 7:51 to play.
Morehead State has made their name this season on the boards, their pressure defense, and their ability to get to the free-throw line. You could argue they didn’t do any of the three. The Eagles did edge the Racers on the glass 31-30, but also missed far more shots, allowing themselves more opportunity for offensive rebounds. Murray State turned the ball over 12 times, same as the Eagles, and as mentioned above Morehead State was virtually shut out from the line.
Despite his team’s struggles, Angelo Warner managed 18 points, and Chad Posthumus was just one rebound shy of another double-double. Morehead State hit just 4-21 from three-point range, but did outscore Murray State in the paint 40-28, thanks in part to a rather dominating performance inside through the first five minutes of the second half. They were trailing on points in the paint 16-14 at the half.
With the Morehead State loss, the two double-bye’s are set: Belmont and Murray State won’t play until Friday night in Nashville, although which team will play first, as the tournament’s top overall seed, is still yet to be determined.