It was a tale of two halves Thursday night as the men’s basketball team returned home to face the 3-15 Eastern Illinois Panthers.
The Racers struggled to find the basket early, shooting only 37 percent from the floor and less than 16 percent from long range in the first 20 minutes of play. Senior guard Isaiah Canaan worked to get the ball to fellow guard Dexter Fields on the perimeter, but Fields failed to make the shots drop, missing each of his six attempts in the first half.
Eastern Illinois kept pace with Murray State, and the score changed hands six times throughout the first period of play. The Racers, however, finished the half with a flurry, scoring the final five points in the closing minute, giving themselves a 27-24 halftime lead.
“I missed some easy looks (Canaan) gave me in the first half,” Fields said. “In the second half I just knew I had to come out and take the same shots I’d been taking and I knew they were going to fall.”
The shots indeed fell.
At the 17:15 mark of the second half, Fields found himself open again in the corner. This time he sunk it.
A minute and a half later, he sunk another, followed by a third consecutive 3-pointer, two minutes later.
Canaan chipped in two 3-point shots of his own and by the 12:39 mark, the Racers had turned the tide, storming to a 46-33 lead.
Head Coach Steve Prohm began to replace veterans with freshmen, but the team didn’t let up. As fans headed to the exits, the clock struck zero, giving the Racers a 70-49 victory.
While the game lacked excitement in the end, with the Racers pulling away to an easy victory, there was no shortage of story lines.
Senior forward Latreze Mushatt returned to action on his home court for the first time in the 2012-13 season after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon over the summer. He went on to play 17 minutes – a season high – while scoring his first basket since March 17 in an NCAA Tournament loss to Marquette. He went on to finish with four points, two rebounds and an assist.
Freshman guard Tyler Rambo took advantage of added playing time as well, charting career highs in minutes (19) and points (6). Additionally, Rambo applied significant defensive pressure to several of the Panther’s top scorers.
“I was proud of Tyler Rambo,” Prohm said. “I’ve been thinking about him for a long time just to try to get somebody out there defensively and put pressure on the basket and he did a very good job.”
Racer fans also saw a new face on the Murray State bench during Thursday night’s game. They met T.J. Sapp, a sophomore guard who recently transferred to Murray State from Clemson. Arriving just in time to enroll in spring classes, Sapp must now sit out for two consecutive semesters before he will be eligible to play.
“The day finals end next December, he’ll be eligible to play,” Prohm said. “He’s a kid we recruited out of high school really hard in the same class that we signed Zay Jackson.”
The Racers recruited Sapp heavily out of high school, but signed Zay Jackson instead. Sapp chose Clemson, where he proceeded to average 15 minutes per game.
“He’s going to bring some toughness, and some experience and he’ll bring another playmaker,” Prohm said, “so if you look at our team we’ve really got two guys sitting out for next year with Zay Jackson and now T.J.”
While the future remains bright with new faces, the Racers must now turn their sights to another home matchup Saturday against SIUE.
In only their second year competing in the OVC, the Cougars earned a big-time win on the road against Austin Peay, soundly defeating the Governors 66-53.
Looking to sweet their two game road trip, SIUE could provide another tough conference matchup for the Racers.
“We’re going to have to play really well,” Prohm said. “It’s going to have to be one of our better games of the year because they do a really good job.”
The Racers will look to push their win streak to three at 7:30 Saturday night at the CFSB Center against the SIUE Cougars.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer