After three straight conference games at home, the Racers will travel to Jacksonville, Ala., to take on Jacksonville State.
The Racers have shown much more offensive cohesion in their last back-to-back victories against Southern Illinois Edwardsville and Eastern Illinois.
In the last game against Eastern Illinois, senior guard Tessa Elkins went on to lead the team with 17 points after typically averaging five points per game. Junior guard Jessica Winfrey earned a double-double and tallied up 18 rebounds. With multiple, similar performances, the team effort could result in a vital win against the rivaled OVC opponent.
“Tessa has a high basketball IQ,” Head Coach Rob Cross said. “She’s always going to play hard. I think that Tessa’s leadership qualities are what attracted me to her as a recruit. I think right now for the first time in her career, she’s stepping forward and seeing what it takes to lead a team in a positive way.”
Senior guard Mariah Robinson has taken on the role of the points leader for Murray State, recently breaking the record for the most 3-point shots made in school history. With assists from key defensive powerhouses like freshman forward Kelsey Dirks, Winfrey and Robinson could cause a struggle beyond the arc for the Gamecocks. In her performance against Southern Illinois at Edwardsville, Robinson scored 31 points, including six shots in the from beyond the arc.
This will be the first meeting against Jacksonville State since last season in January where the Racers pulled out a 73-57 win against the Gamecocks.
In a high-tempo game, three of Jacksonville’s top five scorers were faced with foul trouble. Forward Brittany Manning, center Danielle Vaughn and guard Candace Morton all left the court with four personal fouls.
“I just think you gain confidence from being successful and you can only gain so much from being close,” Cross said. “At some point, that stops. I feel like the team understands what it takes to beat good teams in this conference.” With guards like freshman Erika Sisk and junior Erica Burgess, to driving into the paint for layups and drawing the foul, the Racers could hold the Gamecocks to more foul trouble to get them to the line, where they average over 75 percent. “Erica Burgess is a very talented player,” Cross said. “She’s one of the best players in the league at a guard spot. Kyra (Watson) and Burgess are back in the fold and doing what they’re told to.”
Against Southern Illinois at Edwardsville, the Racers shot for almost 8 percent behind the line, making them a dangerous team to foul.
Another weak point for Jacksonville is the teams rate of turnovers. Against Murray State last season, the Gamecocks finished with 20 turnovers to the Racers’ nine. With agility, an eventual full-court press and aggressive dives for the ball, the Racers would have a potentially great defensive chemistry to ensure another victory. The Racers have their best games when they grab several offensive rebounds.
Against a bigger Jacksonville State team, forwards like Dirks will need to secure offensive rebounds. Averaging 6.6 rebounds a game, she is a major component to the Racers when shots aren’t falling. Tipoff for Murray State will be Saturday at 2 p.m. in Jacksonville, Ala.
Story by Carly Besser, Staff writer.