Seven games into the season, the Murray State Racers were 2-5. As whispers about a rebuilding year began to circulate, fans feared this would be the year that ended the program’s streak of 25 consecutive winning seasons.
Less than two months later, Head Coach Steve Prohm and senior guard Dexter Fields have seemingly righted the ship, guiding an inexperienced Murray State team to an 11-2 conference record and an OVC West Championship.
“It started off a little bumpy,” Fields said. “We couldn’t win a road game. We were under .500 for a little bit, but I knew we were young. We had a vision from this summer and we knew we were going to be here.”
The team’s 72-60 victory over Eastern Illinois Saturday night clinched the top spot in the division and guaranteed the Racers a double-bye into the semifinal round of the OVC Tournament in March.
Eastern Illinois led only once for a span of 24 seconds in the first half. Sophomore guard Jeffery Moss’ 18 points led the Racers, who built up a lead before halftime and pulled away at the end of the game for the 12-point win.
“I thought we guarded and communicated and competed really well throughout the game,” Prohm said.
Fields and Prohm both said Saturday night was one of the team’s most complete defensive performances of the season.
Now, with OVC Tournament victories as the only thing in the way of an NCAA Tournament berth, the Racers still say they have a lot to play for heading into the postseason.
“It’s a good thing to clinch the western side of the division,” said junior guard T.J. Sapp. “But at the end of the day our ultimate goal is to send (Fields) out as a champion.”
Coming into the season, Fields was the only player on the roster who had started a game for Murray State. Fields started every game last season, but took a backseat to the five seniors on that year’s team.
This season was different, however, as Fields quickly became the team’s unquestioned leader.
“I just try to lead these guys in the right direction and teach them more than just the basketball aspect of the game,” Fields said. “I try to teach them things they can take with them later in life.”
Fields said they are willing to take advice and go apply it on the court and in their lives.
“You can see they’re growing as players and as individuals and we’re growing as a team,” he said. “I’m just fortunate and blessed to have such great guys on my team.”
As the team’s leader prepares to play his final home game on senior night at the CFSB Center Saturday, he admitted it will be an emotional night.
“It’s finally starting to hit me that it’s almost over,” Fields said. “I’m just going into this game with the same mindset I always do though, and that’s just to go out there and play as hard as I can.”
There won’t be much time for emotion and ceremony, however, as the Morehead State Eagles will attempt to spoil Fields’ senior night and extend a five-game winning streak.
Murray State and Morehead State tip off Saturday at 7 p.m. at the CFSB Center.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer