For the first time in more than two years, the Murray State Racers lost their second straight game Saturday afternoon against Valparaiso.
Despite sitting senior big men Ed Daniel and Brandon Garrett for most of the first half due to foul trouble, the Racers controlled the game. Isaiah Canaan’s ten points and four assists helped Murray State overcome early fouls and gave them a 31-28 halftime lead.
The Racers continued to control the game after the half, and found a lead of five with just under eight minutes to play.
The tide changed at the 6:49 mark when senior forward Ryan Broekhoff hit a three, kicking off a 10-0 rampage for Valparaiso. After seeing his team’s five-point lead turn into a five-point deficit in a minute and a half, Murray State Head Coach Steve Prohm called a timeout with 5:08 remaining to regroup his team.
The Racers came out of the timeout reenergized, as Isaiah Canaan found Dexter Fields in the corner for three, pulling the Murray State deficit back to two.
Two key turnovers by freshman Jeffery Moss and a severe disadvantage in rebounding prevented a Murray State comeback, however, and Valparaiso once again retook a five-point lead with just two minutes remaining.
Canaan would go on to score seven points in the final 1:43, but the damage was irreparable. The Racers dropped their second straight game, losing 66-64 and falling to 9-3 on the season.
In each of the Racers’ three losses this season, they held leads in the second half. Canaan expressed his disappointment with the team’s inability to close out games late.
“We’ve been losing games all season long that we should have been winning,” Canaan said. “Now we just have to look ourselves in the mirror and do better.”
The last time Murray State lost two straight came in November 2010, when the Racers lost to UNLV and Oklahoma State in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif.
Coming off a 31-win season a year ago, the Racers came into 2012-13 with unprecedented expectations from fans and media. Fields said the team must put last year behind them and focus on improving this Racer team.
“We’ve got to find our identity as a team – period – and stop trying to be last year’s team or the team before that,” Fields said. “We’ve got to find out who we are this year and just get better at the things we need to.”
Prohm agreed with Fields, saying this team must refocus on the goal they set at the beginning of the season to win a conference championship.
“What I heard Dexter say is right in that we’ve got to figure out who this team is,” Prohm said. “We’ve got a good team, we’ve just got to figure out some things … I told our guys in there that it’s not about winning four straight championships, it’s about this team’s quest to win one championship and that starts with winning the next game which is Thursday at Martin.”
The loss to Valparaiso marks the end of the out-of-conference portion of the Racers’ schedule. With the exception of a Bracketbusters game in February, the Racers will now battle Ohio Valley Conference teams as the senior class chases their fourth and final regular season conference championship.
The Racers kickoff their conference schedule on the road Thursday night against UT Martin. The Skyhawks, who were picked to finish last in the OVC West, are currently 3-10 and in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
The Racers tipoff against UT Martin at 7 p.m. in Skyhawk Arena in Martin, Tenn.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Sports writer.