Their first meeting was the first conference games for both teams. Both teams finished non-conference play 6-6 as the Eagles rode into Murray. There, the Eagles usual dominance on the offense glass faded, led in part by an eight rebound effort from Brion Sanchious, as Murray State won a defensive slugfest 62-57.
The Racers don’t have Sanchious available this time, after the forward injured his ACL earlier in the year.
It will be a different dynamic in Nashville as both teams come playing their best basketball of the season. Morehead State has won six straight, surging from the bottom half of the East Division to secure the No. 3 seed and a single bye in the final week of the season. The Racers have only won two straight, but both wins were dominant offensive efforts against teams that beat them earlier in the season.
One of those streaks, and possibly one of their seasons, will end tonight.
Heading into Nashville, Murray State head coach Matt McMahon was clear that playing four games in four days wouldn’t have any fatigue impact on the Racers, and he coached that way last night. Wayne Langston played 38 minutes, despite Murray carrying a huge lead throughout the second half, and Bryce Jones played 36. As usual, Justin Seymour played significant minutes off the bench, but other players like Terron Gilmore and Charles Brown might have seen a bit more action. (Gilmore played 2 minutes. Brown, 9)
If there’s any team that’s going to test the fatigue of the Racers, Morehead State is that team. They’re overly physical, (see — four straight years of leading the league in most free-throws by opponent) crash the offensive glass, and will get out and run when they see opportunities. It’s not minute 1, or even minute 30 that would worry me. But if Langston is needed for another 38 or 39 minutes tonight, (and spoiler: he almost certainly will be) how much energy will be left in the tank if the Racers need a bucket in the final minutes.
Every game’s not going to be a blowout, after all…
If there’s any team that’s going to test the fatigue of the Racers, Morehead State is that team.
Murray State can neutralize some of that physicality with great ball movement, which we saw especially in the opening 20 minutes against Eastern Illinois. Things got a little more sloppy in the second half, but sometimes it’s hard to play with that same focus when you’re up by 20.
Since the tournament matchups were finalized, guys like me have been salavating over Morehead’s path to a potential OVC Championship, not having to face another team from the East Division until the finals.
Hopefully, Morehead isn’t looking too far ahead just yet. Murray State is the yang to Morehead’s ying. Head coach Sean Woods has built his program, in part, around crashing the offensive glass, and it’s been effective. The Racers, though, are the best team in the league at keeping teams from doing just that, and they’ve been equally as effective (if not more so) in defensive rebounding as the Eagles have been in offensive rebounding.
There was some surprise that the Eagles only put one player on the newly expanded all-conference teams, and while it’s disappointing it speaks to a great positive for Morehead State: their offensive balance. Four guys are averaging between 9-12 points in conference play, and they have several players that can score from the perimeter, or drive it inside. Early in the season, that offense really struggled to find consistency, but it’s come together over the last several weeks. It’s much harder to defend a team that has three or four primary options to a team that has just one. That depth could be key in late situations, against a team playing on night two of a back-to-back.
The one thing Morehead can’t let happen is for Murray to get explosive from deep. The Eagles offense, while better, doesn’t want to get in a shootout with the best three-point shooting team (by percentage) in the league.