Murray State head coach Matt McMahon‘s (pictured above) first season as head coach hasn’t gone as well as he likely would have hoped. This week, the news surrounding his team turned downright miserable:
Racers freshman forward Brion Sanchious will miss the rest of the season after he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee last week.
Sanchious has been the proverbial “role player” for the Racers this season, backing up starting forward Wayne Langston in spells, but had started to come into his own in conference play: The 6’8 forwards eight rebounds were pivotal in keeping a rebound-hungry Morehead State team off the board in Murray’s win earlier three weeks ago, and Sanchious pulled down five offensive boards in a win against Jacksonville State. His minutes had risen as well, playing 35 and 25 in those games, respectively, his most and second most minutes played.
While the raw stats don’t favor the freshman, Sanchious rebounding rate (8.5 per 40 minutes played) is comparable to the Racers’ rebounding leader, Langston. (9.0) The next-best Racer? Jeffrey Moss at 7.0 rebounds per 40 minutes. For a team that’s struggling to score, losing a quality rebounder will hurt, even if Sanchious wasn’t known as a scorer — he scored just 32 points total on the season.
If past seasons are any indication, seven conference wins will get you a trip to Nashville, (Eight wins is a virtual lock) and there’s little reason to suspect the Racers can’t get to that total, even with Sanchious’ injury. With their games against the East Division complete, the only team with a winning record on Murray’s slate is UT Martin, and the Racers still have six games against the likes of Southeast Missouri, SIUE, and Austin Peay, who are a combined 2-15 in OVC play.
For a team that’s struggling to score, losing a quality rebounder will hurt, even if Sanchious wasn’t known as a scorer.
But, as I first mentioned in this weekend’s wrap, there’s a bigger goal in play: The Racers need to go 7-4 down the stretch and win their first game in Nashville (or, alternatively go 8-3 or better) to keep their lengthy streak of winning seasons in tact. (That’s assuming they don’t play in another tournament past that. If they do, they’ll need another win somewhere.)
Keeping that streak alive may not mean much outside Murray, and the streak ending wouldn’t be the end of the world by any measure. But from my years in Murray, I can tell you it’s important to a segment of their very vocal fan base.
It’s not 31-2, but McMahon and the Racers now have a little over a month to try and match an impressive feat of another former head coach in his first year.
Billy Kennedy was in a similar spot talent-wise to this year’s squad in his first season in Murray, (Although, that was for a completely different reason…) and it wasn’t until February 17th that the Racers got above .500 for good, and the final day of the regular season, February 24th, that a winning season was guaranteed.
The earliest Murray State can guarantee a winning season this year is February 13th — if they win their next eight straight.
For McMahon and the Racers to finish this year with a winning record would be impressive, given the loss of Cameron Payne to the NBA this past summer and the loss of Sanchious this week.
It would be a big victory — even if the season doesn’t end in the NCAA Tournament.