Coming off what Head Coach Steve Prohm described as one of the tougher losses in the last several years, last Saturday at Jacksonville State, the Racers now have a much needed week of rest and preparation before their next game.
While the loss dropped the Racers’ conference record to 6-2, they still maintain a tight grip on the top spot in the West Division, with a three game lead over second-place SIU Evansville.
“We’re 15-5, you know; I think we’re in good position,” Prohm said. “Yeah I wish we were 17-3, but you know we’re 15-5; that’s a 75 percent winning percentage. We still have another half of conference. We’ve got six of nine home games so we just need to get great crowds and great energy and just play well down the stretch.”
The Racers now face a three-game home stand over eight days, but it certainly will not be easy. Two of the three games will be against a couple of the top teams in the conference.
Belmont remains the lone undefeated team in conference play, and will come to Murray Thursday night.
Two days later, Tennessee State will make its return to the CFSB Center after a memorable game last season where they beat the ninth ranked Racers, ending their 23-0 start. Prohm is not getting ahead of himself, however. He is solely focused on Saturday’s rivalry game against Austin Peay.
“We’ve got to be locked in and ready,” Prohm said. “You know everybody will probably start talking about next week against Belmont and Tennessee State, but that’s the furthest thing from my mind right now.”
Saturday will mark the second matchup between the two this season. The Racers beat the Governors Jan. 12 in Clarksville, Tenn., in a hard-fought 71-68 game.
Junior guard Travis Betran made the game difficult for the Racers in the first matchup, scoring a game-high 27 points and chipping in five assists. He was particularly accurate from 3-point range, sinking five deep balls and shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc.
In a Tuesday press conference, Prohm said his team must do a better job of containing the Harlem, N.Y. native if they are going to complete the season sweep of Austin Peay.
“(Betran) is a good player,” Prohm said. “He can really shoot and really score. We’ve got to be a little more locked in on him, hedging ball screens and not letting him get as comfortable.”
Since conference play began, Prohm’s team has played extremely tough defense, allowing an average of 60.6 points per game, the lowest in the OVC. Additionally, the Racers lead the league in field goal percentage against, with opposing teams shooting just 41 percent when playing Murray State. This marks a turnaround from the beginning of the season, where defense seemed to be the Racers’ greatest weakness.
Through its first seven games against Division I opponents, the team gave up over 71 points per game.
Unfortunately, as Murray State’s defense has improved, the offense – particularly shooting – has worsened. Ranking eighth in the league in scoring with 66.8 points per game and 10th in field goal percentage, the shots simply are not falling for the Racers.
“We’ve missed a lot of open shots,” Prohm said. “(Jeffery Moss) and Dexter (Fields) were 2-17 this past weekend and that’s tough because those are the guys getting the open shots when everybody converges in on Isaiah. We’ll make shots, and when we start playing better offensively, we’re going to be very good.”
While the team has struggled to shoot the ball over the past several games, they do not plan on changing their style of play and will continue to let the shots fly early and often.
“You can’t stop doing what you work on,” senior guard Isaiah Canaan said. “They’re not falling right now, but they’ll start falling for us down the road. We can’t stop doing it just because the shots are not falling. We’ve got to continue to keep doing what we’re good at.”
The team works to remedy their offensive troubles as they prepare to beat Austin Peay for the fifth straight time Saturday at noon at the CFSB Center.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer.