Halfway through conference play, with the OVC tournament just two months away, the Racers are showing aspects of a championship-caliber team.
Against Tennessee Tech, the team that knocked them out of the bracket and went on to win the tournament last year, Murray State shot for a season-high 48.1 percent and started the first half off with 9-0 run. It was their fourth-straight win in conference play.
In their last four games, the Racers have won by double digits. The slow starting offense and poor offensive rebounds were what Head Coach Rob Cross said were holding them back in the three game losing streak at the beginning of the season.
Against Eastern Illinois, Murray State showed defensive prowess ,holding them to just two field goals in the second half.
“It was a great effort defensively on our part,” Cross said. “We held them for 30 percent from the field, with their talent level all over the court. If you look at that team, they really seem to have all conference-caliber players.”
After two road wins against Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech, the Racers will now return to the CFSB Center to face OVC rival Austin Peay.
The Racers have improved in play development, a stronger defense and a more aggressive offense, but the latest victory against Austin Peay was too close to go unnoticed.
If Murray State wants to guarantee the win, it will take some changing up of the defensive strategy and a similar, consistent offense shown in the last four games.
The game will be Murray State’s second of the season against the Governors and the first at home.
Against Austin Peay, the Racers pulled out a tightly clenched 77-72 win for the first time since 2009 in Clarksville, Tenn.
“It’s a tough place to play, down there in the Dunn Center,” Cross said. “We really played an aggressive game. I thought we were into it mentally. We were very focused. We were able to maintain poise and execute down the stretch and really challenge their toughness. They were out rebounding us at that point, and we out rebounded them 12-2 by the end of the game.”
Cross said rebounds will be key in holding the Governors to a lower score. Because of a more relaxed defense, Austin Peay managed to score 17 second-chance points to put the Racers in a hole early in the second half.
Austin Peay was also powerful close to the net, scoring 26 of their 72 points in the paint.
Guards like leading scorer Meghan Bussabarger will be difficult to guard in the post with her 6-foot frame and added talent beyond the arc.
The Racers will need a height advantage with players like freshman forward Kelsey Dirks to put pressure on a team with fast breaks. If the Racers manage to maintain focus and hold on to a lead through the second half, it could be a sweep against Austin Peay.
Tipoff is Feb. 2 at 2:15 p.m. at the CFSB Center.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer.