The Racers opened the season at home with a 77-74 loss to the University of Houston Nov. 14 before redeeming themselves with a 68-49 victory over former OVC rival Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Tuesday.
Former Houston Rockets assistant coach and current Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson looked displeased as he made his return to collegiate basketball only to see his team couldn’t find a lead against mid-major Murray State throughout the first half. The Cougars closed the gap with less than a minute left before halftime, however, as 5,056 fans electrified the air in the CFSB Center. The Racers’ lead was cut to just 42-38 as the buzzer sounded.
“I coached Isaiah Canaan last year,” Sampson said, “so I’ve heard enough about Murray State from Isaiah, but I’ve been aware. I have a lot of respect for this program. It’s been good a long time. Murray State didn’t just get good. Hats off to Murray State. Great environment, great facilities, great program.”
During the second half, the Racers had a tough time with both shooting and working their offense around the zone defense the Cougars brought out.
“We were stuck with four guards, and we just weren’t prepared enough,” said Head Coach Steve Prohm. “And that’s totally on me. It falls on me and not on the guys. The zone bothered us. It slowed the game down for us offensively and it really got us out of rhythm.”
Houston took the lead with just over six minutes left in the game, but the Racers fought to regain it.
With less than two minutes to play, senior forward Jarvis Williams drew a foul and sunk his free throws before a loose ball was recovered for a layup by sophomore point guard Cameron Payne, cutting the lead to 76-74. Murray State forced another turnover but Payne’s 3-point attempt was no good with 37 seconds on the clock.
The Racers took on their first road challenge of the year Tuesday as they faced MTSU for the 137th time in program history. This win against the Conference USA team gave the Racers a chance to improve in the areas they found flaws against Houston.
Junior forward Tyler Rambo regained eligibility after technicality issues within his degree progress prevented him from playing against Houston. He racked up five rebounds and went two for five in field goals and three for four in free throws in his 25 minutes of playing time.
A tough loss followed by a road win provides the Racers with the challenges Prohm hoped they would find in their difficult schedule.
“We need adversity,” Prohm said. “This team needs a lot of adversity for us to get to where we need to go.”
Story by Mallory Tucker, Sports Editor