With 3:29 left in the first half in Nashville, it looked like Murray State was ready to put a nail in Tennessee State’s coffin. The Racers led comfortably by 13, were shooting better than 50% from the field, and their defense, a sore spot over the last two games, had held TSU to just 22 points over the first 17 minutes.
Next thing I know, Murray State leads by just five, as the game nears the four-minute mark. Murray State’s offense hadn’t gone anywhere: they were shooting 55.6% from the floor in the second half at that point.
The defense, though, that held Tennessee State to 37% shooting in the first half? That had gone the wayside once again.
“I thought the first half we were really good,” Murray State head coach Steve Prohm said of his defense. “[Patrick] Miller got an air ball putback, and a bank-in three to get to 14, else he would have had eight or nine points.”
“Second half, I thought we got a little bit driven too much,” Prohm added. “But I think a lot of that had to do with ball-screen execution and fatigue a little bit. And Miller’s tough to stay in front of for 40-minutes.”
Tennessee State could never pull within five, falling at home 73-65. Both teams took the air out of the ball, with each team having just 32 second-half possessions. “It was a slow pace, and we don’t want that,” Prohm said. “We want to get up and go and play.”
Racers forward Jonathan Fairell, who scored a career high 17 points on 8-9 shooting, agreed the tempo caused a few problems for their offense.
Miller’s tough to stay in front of for 40-minutes
“Yeah, we need to play really fast.”
The story for Tennessee State is another night of more of the same. Patrick Miller finished with a game high 26-points, hitting 9-16 from the field. As has been the case far more often than not, his effort couldn’t be replicated by the rest of the team, which combined to shoot 13-38. The Tigers had no answer for Murray State’s offense all game, as the Racers shot 50% from the floor and 46% from three-point range in the win.
Far too many of their offensive possessions were plagued by indecision. Early in the game, Jay Harris was forced to take a heave from 22-feet as the shot clock expired. He held the ball for the final ten seconds of the possession, with five spent with the ball on his hip on the wing. Tennessee State turned the ball over just 12 times on the night, but given the slow pace of the game, it amounted to 19% of their total possessions, meaning nearly one-in-five trips down the floor ended in a turnover.
While they’re still mathematically eligible, the Tigers 10th loss tonight all but ends any hope of making a run to the OVC Tournament.
With a Belmont win today, the Racers remain in second place in the OVC standings, tied in the loss column, but having lost the tiebreaker to the Bruins. After a three game road swing, Murray State returns home to host the duo of Illinois school currently fighting for second in the division behind Murray.
Struggling to put teams away has been an issue across the OVC this year, as we’ve seen far more big leads lost than big leads retained. In an uncertain, and fairly even conference, that skill could be the difference between an OVC title or watching March Madness from campus.