As the Racers stir excitement among fans with their 13-game win streak, they continue to focus on simply winning each day.
“It doesn’t really matter that much to me,” said senior guard T.J. Sapp after Murray State’s win over Tennessee State Saturday. “It doesn’t really matter that much to any of us really on the team. Because the way we’re looking at it right now, that game is over with. Now tomorrow, we’re trying to work on being 1-0, the next day, 1-0. And if we continue to all buy into that message, that record’s going to continue to stretch out on its own.”
The Racers are ranked 16th in scoring offense in the NCAA and sophomore point guard Cameron Payne is also ranked 16th nationally in assists per game. While the team and coaching staff concentrates on their daily work, Head Coach Steve Prohm voiced some frustration.
“I’m getting off on a tangent here – but I’m sitting there watching ESPN at home and they’re not talking about Cam Payne,” Prohm said. “And I’m like, ‘man.’ It’s funny. That’s why we’ve just got to keep just staying in the moment and just get better today at practice and it’ll all work out.”
According to Prohm, the OVC deserves more recognition than what it receives for a strong slew of teams and players. The players’ pride in Murray State’s program is evident as they pursue a 28th-straight winning season. In addition to being undefeated in the conference, the Racers hold the third place spot for win streaks in the NCAA, behind only the University of Kentucky and the University of Virginia. They both began the season undefeated at 17-0.
“It doesn’t really matter if we’re winning just like the Kentucky’s or the Virginia’s – all these teams that are undefeated like that,” Sapp said. “They’ve got tradition, and we’ve got great tradition here, as well. So we expect to win. We’re expected to win. That doesn’t mean nothing to us. It’s just another year in the Murray State basketball program to us.”
Ranked first in the OVC’s pre-season polls, the Racers are not strangers to high expectations. Prohm believes these expectations may have caused a few of their losses to slip by early in the schedule.
“This year, I think the hiccup came from expectations,” Prohm said. “Everybody has wanted to kind of do it on their own. And you can’t play the game that way. People ask me – I think the biggest reason of change – we’ve got great kids that want to win and want to do things the right way. And they represent our program the right way.”
An increased emphasis on defense and togetherness is what the Racers work on after their most recent loss. The Racers have been undefeated since falling to Valparaiso 58-93 during the Challenge in Music City Nov. 29.
“Our guys have bought into playing together,” Prohm said. “Our guys have started defending, and they’re competing, and they’re playing together. What probably helped this team – and you know there’s a lot of things – I think winning at Evansville was big for us, though. If I had to pick a game, a moment, I just think it got everybody trusting each other a little bit more.”
The Racers took a nail-biting 81-79 road victory over the University of Evansville Dec. 13. The game-winning shot came from senior forward Jonathan Fairell with just 2.3 seconds left on the clock.
As the Racers continue working to achieve the ultimate goal of an OVC championship title in Nashville, Tenn., in early March, they don’t look backward or forward, but simply focus on themselves in the present.
“Don’t be hype, be substance,” Sapp said. “Substance is what we’re trying to be. We could be the hype guys. Be happy when we go up. But substance is what lasts. That hype will go away.”
The Racers face Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Sam M. Vadalabene Center in Edwardsville, Ill., before returning to the CFSB Center Jan. 29 to face Eastern Kentucky.
“We’ve talked to our guys,” Prohm said. “It doesn’t matter – home, road – you win by the way you play. You win by the way you execute. You win in the paint. You win on the glass. You win at the free-throw line.”
Story by Mallory Tucker, Sports Editor