They were all smiles by the final buzzer, but the game was far from easy for the men’s basketball team in the opening minutes.
In one of the most physical games the Racers have played all year, Murray State outlasted the Omaha Mavericks to win 86-62.
The win secures a fifth straight 20-win season for Murray State, good for the longest streak in school history. Senior guard Dexter Fields passed the 500-point mark for his two-year career as a Racer in the process.
Though he went scoreless for more than 25 minutes, back-to back 3-pointers from Fields eliminated any chance of a comeback for the Mavericks, who then faced a 22-point deficit with about five minutes to play.
“I struggled at the beginning,” Fields said. “But looking at the clock, we were still up. These guys still played their tails off. I feel like we played great defensively, so even with me off, I feel like we would have gotten the (win) because we played great … It was two big-time shots that put the game away, but I’m most happy because we got the win.”
Fields wasn’t the only one to struggle at first. Without having played such physical games, the whole team got off to a sluggish start. Though their defense was keeping Omaha in check, Murray State struggled to score.
After battling back and forth, the Racers went on a 14-4 run to end the half and take a 13-point lead to the locker room.
“We started off slow, but our guys responded,” said Head Coach Steve Prohm. “They really came out with a physical mentality and they went right at us. We got flustered a little bit early and got a technical foul, but our guys weathered that storm and came back and played extremely well.”
Sophomore guard Jeffrey Moss was the first Racer who was issued a foul in the early minutes of the game. For the most part, though, and to the crowd’s dismay, the officials let the teams battle.
“That was good because it was good to see our guys have to respond to that level of toughness,” Prohm said.
Finally, junior forward Jarvis Williams helped get the offense rolling with a few emphatic slam dunks.
Junior forward Jonathan Fairell also played a big part in helping the Racers pull away late in the first half and extend the lead into the second period. He said having good character helped him and the team pull out the win.
“You just have to keep your composure,” he said. “You’ve got some guys that want to do some cheap shots just to get you in foul trouble and to react some type of way, but you’ve just got to keep your head.”
The Racers were able to maintain focus in the second half, as they continued to add to their lead.
Though the lead was large, the intensity never let up, as both teams had to scrap for every possession.
Fields didn’t mind.
“We didn’t really know they were going to play like that,” he said. “It wasn’t anything intentional. They probably were just playing hard, trying to come out and throw the first blow like every other team is. I honestly like it when it’s like this. I kind of just smile because I know these guys are competitors.”
When Fields hit his shots from beyond the arc, the game was all but over.
Good defense and a methodical offense kept Murray State in strong control through the final buzzer.
Moss led the team with 17 points, while Fairell added 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Now, the Racers prepare for Thursday night, when they will host the Towson Tigers (25-10, 13-3 Colonial Athletic Association) at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinal round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Prohm said he is ready.
“We’ve got our hands full, but that’s why we’re in this,” he said.
And Fields isn’t ready to stop, either.
“I never thought I would play another game here at the (CFSB Center),” he said. “Through the grace of God, we got it where we can play the rest of these games down the stretch at home and I just want to play in front of the fans again and go out with a bang and go out with a championship and go out the right way.”
He isn’t looking too far ahead, though, as the next game is the only on the matters.
Said Fields: “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing – going 1-0 today.”
Story by Ryan Richardson, Sports Editor
Photos by Jenny Rohl:
Photos by Lori Allen: