Coming on the court in shirts reading ‘Power of one,’ the Racers practiced what they preached.
Led by junior guard Tessa Elkins with 18 points and 10 rebounds, it was a true Cinderella story for Murray State (10-14, 6-5 Ohio Valley Conference) as they grinded out a 66-56 win over the Tennessee State Tigers on Monday night in the CFSB Center.
Starters for the team included guards Elkins, junior Mariah Robinson, redshirt sophomore Erica Burgess, junior forward Kyra Watson and senior forward/center Kayla Lowe.
The victory marked Elkins’ first career double-double.
“They don’t come any tougher than Tessa Elkins,” Head Coach Rob Cross said. “That’s what drew me to her as a recruit. I love that she plays with passion. Sometimes she over hustles, but she’s gotten much better. It’s sheer toughness. She’s willing to put her nose where it doesn’t belong and get balls.”
The style was an aggressively quick tempo on both sides of the court, tying the score four times in the first half. Holding a seven-point lead in the start, the Racers had a short-lived leg up to the Tigers.
“They’re a scrappy team,” sophomore Erica Burgess said. “They like to get up and press really hard, so you have to play with poise, and we did.”
The battle began when Tennessee State gained footing with guard Jasmin Shuler, who finished with 20 points and a rebound.
“We did pretty well except for in the rebounding department,” Cross said. “We just gave up way too many offensive rebounds and it kept them in the game. They fought really hard in the glass.”
Showing opposite offensive strategies, Tennessee State kept the game close to the rim with Simone Hopes while the Racers kept a consistent mix, shooting 35 percent in both field goals and shots beyond the arch in the first half.
Statistically absent in the first half with two missed field goals and one point at the line, a refocused Burgess began the second half with a dangerously quick drive to the rim, ending the two minute scoring draught for both teams.
“With the ball in her hand, (Burgess) is unstoppable.” Elkins said. “She just comes at you so quick. It’s really nice to play with her.”
From then on she never looked back, scoring 14 points and helping earn a comfortable 10 point lead for the Racers in the final minutes of play.
“She understands that she has a lot of responsibility with this team,” Cross said. “If she wants to be the player that she says she wants to be, she has to become more consistent with her effort.”
The game ended with a final half-court shot attempt by Tennessee State and a roaring crowd as the win was handed to Murray State.
Coming close to tournament time, Cross said this win was helpful in their hopes to get a good position with a first round bye in the upcoming OVC tournament.
The team’s next game will be at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 11 in the CFSB Center against Southeast Missouri.