Deck the halls with blue and gold. Murray State is undefeated through 13 games going into a four-day Christmas break.
Donte Poole scored 15 points and the 22nd-ranked Racers remained unbeaten with a 78-54 victory over Tennessee-Martin on Wednesday night in the Ohio Valley Conference opener for both teams.
“We knew the OVC opener would be a good test for us and they put us to the test,” Poole said. “I think they kind of surprised us with their defensive intensity, we weren’t prepared for it as much as we thought we would be so we adjusted for it.”
Ivan Aska added 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists to help the Racers (13-0, 1-0) to their best start in 75 years. The only better start was 16-0 in 1935-36.
“(This win) means a lot to us getting ready for a conference championship and this is my last time playing for an opener and you can’t get too sloppy or get comfortable you just have to keep on working,” Aska said.
Myles Taylor had 22 points for the Skyhawks (3-11, 0-1), who dropped to 0-3 against ranked teams this season. They lost to Louisville and Mississippi State.
“They’re pretty good,” Taylor said of Murray State. “We’ve been watching four or five films on them and we knew what they wanted to do so we just tried to stop them. We can’t control the shots they make or the plays they make because they’ve got great players but we’ve got great players too.”
Taylor may have complimented his opponent, but he had a final word to the Racers: “When they come to our house it’s going to be a closer game and they better be ready.”
Murray State is one of six Division I teams without a loss.
The Racers, who committed 24 turnovers, lead the all-time series with Tennessee-Martin 39-3 and are 22-0 at home against the Skyhawks.
“I’m just excited to get the win and more importantly to get the first OVC win,” Racers coach Steve Prohm said. “I’m not even thinking about the 13 wins, I’m excited to be 1-0 in the conference. This was a tough game because it’s the opening game of conference and then it’s the Christmas game to where these guys have a foot out the door and you’ve got to get them focused and locked in.”
Murray State shot 65.2 percent from the field in taking a 36-16 halftime lead. The Skyhawks shot just 23.3 percent and were outrebounded 22-15 in the opening 20 minutes.
Poole scored 13 points in the second half, saying his teammates made a difference in his outlook going into the final 20 minutes.
“It was a rough first half, (the Skyhawks) were doing some things on the defensive end that we prepared for but I misjudged,” Poole said. “I got frustrated with myself and I let it take control of me a little bit. Going into the second half the guys were just saying to me ‘Be aggressive’ and ‘Get out of it, you’ve got to play through it we’ve got a lot more season to go, there are going to be a lot tougher games than this,’ so it was just an adjustment I had to make. I just had to be aggressive so I looked for open shots and took them, my teammates were also looking for me and that helped a lot.”
Tennessee-Martin coach Jason James said: “I don’t know you ever expect to get beat (by) 24. We knew they were good and would have to play nearly perfect to win. I thought we’d play a little smarter than we did, I thought we would rebound from our Sunday debacle a little bit, so I don’t know that it’s what I expected but they’re a good team.”
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State’s leading scorer with a 19.3 average, entered the game needing 20 points to reach the 1,000 mark. He
didn’t score until 15 minutes into the game and finished with 10 but he did lead the team in assists with seven.
Less than 5 minutes into the game Canaan charged toward the basket as if he was going to lay the ball in then passed to Ed Daniel for a dunk for the first of his assists.
“If Isaiah can have seven assists, 10 points and six rebounds and gets to the free throw line nine times, it’s a pretty good night,” Prohm said. “One thing I like about our team is that we’re developing into a team where he doesn’t have to get 20 or 25, he can get 10 with six rebounds and that’s pretty good for a point guard, so I’m pretty excited about that.”
Both teams made four 3-point field goals but Murray State only took nine attempts while the Skyhawks took 16.
With the Racers leading by 31 points coach Steve Prohm covered his face and hung his head when Jaylen Bland attempted a layup that was leaning toward the theatrical. Less than a minute later Bland redeemed himself with consecutive layups to increase the lead to 35.
“I’m proud of our guys finishing out the first semester on a strong, positive note,” Prohm said. “They’re ready to get home and see their family for a couple days and they need to enjoy that time.”