Murray State fans aren’t used to slow starts.
When you’ve won at least 20 games each of the past five seasons, there aren’t a lot of back-to-back losses to be had, much less to start off a year. You have to go back to 2006-07 to even find the last time Murray State lost their first two games.
That’s a year many Racers fans would like to forget.
It was Billy Kennedy’s first season, and he inherited a depleted roster. Murray State started off 0-3, on their way to a 16-14 season, their fewest wins since 1992-93.
There’s little, if any, reason to believe that Murray State is headed down that same path this year. Most everyone is back from a mostly successful season. So how we can we even be drawing 0-2 comparisons?
Simple: the Racers haven’t started off a year with two opponents of this caliber in recent history.
Middle Tennessee is coming off three straight years with at least 24 wins — though last year’s campaign could be seen as rather disappointing. The Blue Raiders were upset in the first round of the Conference USA tournament, and weren’t extended a NCAA or an NIT bid.
But the Blue Raiders are undergoing a shift change. The top four scorers from a year ago were all seniors, part of a seven-member graduating class. The new guys don’t appear to have fully gelled yet, as MTSU struggled somewhat in two games against lower-division teams — including losing to Martin Methodist in their only exhibition matchup. Their defense — their calling card under head coach Kermit Davis — hasn’t stepped up yet to the level of previous teams.
Of course, we’re just one real game into the year.
One player to lookout for — sophomore Reggie Upshaw. He’s the team’s top returning scorer, averaging 6.4 points per game as a freshman. He’s a banger inside, and based so far shooting free-throws much better than last year. (He was just 51.6% from the line.)
Murray State’s loss was disheartening — the Racers, especially Cameron Payne, couldn’t get shots to fall, Murray settled for too many three’s and the defense didn’t play well in the second half, as Houston shot 55% from the field — and only took five three point attempts in the final 20 minutes. They were doing their damage inside, in part because Jonathan Fairell only played 11 minutes due to foul trouble.
The Racers aren’t deep in the frontcourt, even less so until Tyler Rambo is cleared to play. As of noon, we’re still waiting word on his status for tonight’s game.
But it was also a bit an uncharacteristic game for the Racers — they didn’t play with the aggressiveness we saw last year. We know they’re capable, and now they know what they must do.
If the Racers do fall to 0-2 tonight, it’s not a season-ender. But Murray State fans will breathe a bit easier if the Racers find a way into the win column.