The way it happens may change, but Murray State keeps winning.
Junior guards Isaiah Canaan and Latreze Mushatt and senior guard Jewuan Long scored 11 points each to lead the Racers (23-0, 12-0 Ohio Valley Conference) to a 65-58 victory Saturday night against University of Tennessee-Martin to remain the only unbeaten NCAA-D-1 team in the nation.
“It’s a great team win and that’s what it’s about,” Murray State Head Coach Steve Prohm said. “Isaiah had to step up and be special Thursday and today he went 4 for 12, he wasn’t able to make shots, he was 0-for-4 from the three but Zay (Jackson) made big plays, Jewuan got to the basket and made some layups. Donte (Poole) hasn’t shot well the last two games and we’ve still been able to win so I’m proud of our guys for how they’re handling themselves and for their effort.”
Playing in their 13th game as a ranked team, the Murray State Racers continue to draw a crowd whether it’s home or away and Saturday in Elam Arena was no different. The Martin, Tenn., arena was busting at its 4,700 seat capacity in a sold-out atmosphere with fans lining the upper walkway.
“We expected (Murray State’s fan support),” UT-Martin Coach Jason James said. “I’ve been here 10 years and they’ve traveled that well every year and that’s something we expect. We know that Murray State fans are among the top in the league and we know they support their Racers and we’re OK with that. We know with it being so close in proximity they bring a lot of people. Our guys are very impressionable so when you say the shot clock is running down we’re probably going to shoot, that’s just how they are. I expected that and we’re alright with that.”
Dane Smith led scoring for the Skyhawks (3-22, 0-11) with 24 points and 11 rebounds while Myles Taylor added 14 in the 44th meeting of the two teams in a series Murray State leads 41-3 dating back to 1956.
In the first half the Racers were up by seven with points from starters Long and Mushatt, however the lead was short lived. UT-Martin quickly battled the Racers and the two teams stayed neck and neck, tying the score five times and the lead changing hands five times, until the score was tied at 19 with 7:42 remaining in the first half.
The Racers then went on a 14-4 run to put the score at 33-23 before the Skyhawks scored on a layup and free throws.
As Canaan floated the ball into the basket, the buzzer sounded and Murray State had a 37-28 advantage at the break
The second half started the same as the first: with the Racers getting on the board first. A jumper by Canaan gave Murray State a nine-point lead in the first 50 seconds of play.
Murray State is known for its three point shooting but went only 3-for-17 on the night getting contribution from the bench, which added 24 points including the three pointers from Zay Jackson and Stacy Wilson.
During shoot around before the game, the Racers had a three-point shooting competition. Wilson and Jackson were on the same team and both were connecting from behind the arc and it was the same pair that connected on each of the threes against UT-Martin.
“Before practice started we was shooting a little three point game and me and Stacy won seven in a row, we just wouldn’t miss so I just tried to translate it to the game,” Jackson said.
The Racers outscored UT-Martin 38-30 in the paint but were outrebounded 47-39 in a game where hustle and speed were as prevalent as the heckling from both sides of the arena.
“What these guys are getting faced with every night, and this is what people need to understand, is they are playing in front of a sell-out crowd every night on the road since Memphis,” Prohm said, “so you’re getting everybody’s best shot whether you’re at Tennessee-Martin, whether you’re at Austin Peay, whether you’re at SEMO, whether you’re at Memphis, whichever it may be. So I’m very proud of our guys.”
With 10:38 remaining in the game Murray State reached a game-high lead of 13 points on a jumper by Ivan Aska but the Skyhawks hadn’t run out of steam yet. The Skyhawks continued to make the Racers’ work for the win and came within six points before Jackson zipped through UT-Martin’s defense to get a layup that pushed the Racers to its familiar 10-point lead.
Each Murray State player who made it on the floor during play added points including Brandon Garrett who had a put back slam off an Isaiah Canaan three-point attempt in the first. Garrett finished the night with two points and five rebounds, two more than Aska who typically leads rebounding for the team.
“I told (Garrett) at halftime he had five rebounds in eight minutes, I thought he was really big for us in the first half,” Prohm said. “We got down four, we went on a big spurt, he got rebounds, he had a tip-in, defensively he was very solid, Zay Jackson hit a big three in both halves but he hit a really big one to put us up eight in the second half. He had penetration in the first half, he defended on the ball pretty well, so I’m proud of him and then Latreze, he had some toughness, put backs and layups around the baskets. I’m proud of those three guys.
With 25 seconds ticking down on the clock, the Murray State fans began chanting ‘undefeated’ and the Racers clinched their 23rd consecutive victory.
“I love (this team’s) resiliency,” Prohm said. “We’ve been resilient all year since overtime in the Southern Miss game in Alaska, since starting the year in Baltimore against Morgan State, they’ve been resilient all year, they’ve done a great job and what they’re doing now is special and we just need to continue to try to get better. It’s great that we’re going home and I don’t look ahead but we finish this season with a tough stretch of road games and I’m sure it will be wild then. We’ve got a very good Tennessee State game Thursday and we need to be resilient again that night.”