(WITH VIDEO) – Murray State’s regular season was a whirlwind of losses at first, but redemption was soon to follow as the Racers broke record after record within both the program and the conference.
As one of only five teams in the OVC’s 67-year history to run the table and go undefeated in the conference in addition to breaking their previous OVC record of longest win streak and holding the second longest streak in the nation, the Racers were ranked for this first time this season on March 2.
Placed at No. 25 on the AP Poll and No. 24 on the USA Today Coaches Poll, the Racers are appreciative of this recognition.
“I think that the AP is great, but the coaches understand what you have to go through,” said Head Coach Steve Prohm. “Regardless of your conference affiliation, regardless of the league, they understand a little bit better how hard it is, night-in, night-out. To go 16-0 in a conference through the injuries, through the sicknesses, through the day-to-day life of college kids – student athletes – on the road, at home, the pressure to do that is a great, great achievement. I think the coaches respect that, understand that.”
As the No. 1 seed and with a double-bye, the Racers have prepared all week to play their first game of the OVC Tournament at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. On Monday, the team lifted and shot around. Then focusing on their own team Tuesday and Wednesday before traveling to Nashville, Tenn. Prohm’s biggest concern throughout are that his players are enjoying the process and taking it one day at a time.
“We’ll play just trying to win the next game,” Prohm said. “We’ve got a good group. We’ve got a talented group. We can’t get caught up in, ‘hey, what happens if this, what happens if this?’ We’ve just got to go play. And if we do that, whatever happens happens.”
The taste of loss at Municipal Auditorium is still fresh in the Racers’ mouths as they fell to both Portland and Valparaiso at the Challenge in Music City earlier this season.
Almost exactly a year ago, they also faced a loss in this location to eventual OVC Tournament Champions Eastern Kentucky.
Despite the freshness of these losses and the amplitude of a possible letdown, the team itself puts all the pressure on the coaching staff.
“The coaches and my teammates in general do a good job of taking all that away from us,” senior forward Jarvis Williams said. “It’s just a motto, but to get rid of all that pressure and things of that sort, we just don’t think about it at all. The coaches, they say if we’ve got any kind of pressure to put it all on them. I really don’t feel any pressure, but I am kind of nervous about it. But when I step on that court all that will go out the window.”
As the team came together to practice for the tournament, individuals were recognized by the conference and nationally.
Sophomore point guard Cameron Payne took home OVC Player of the Year alongside Prohm who was named OVC Coach of the Year. The dynamic duo was also named to the Naismith Trophy semifinalist lists for the same awards.
Payne is ranked 13th in the nation with points per game 20.2, and ranks high in various other categories as well. At the end of the regular season, Prohm tallied 101 wins during his four seasons at Murray State.
Williams joined Payne on the OVC’s All-Conference first team, but he says earning a title in Nashville this weekend is more important to him.
“I mean, I got those accolades last year and it really didn’t change anything about me besides the fact that I got a little recognition,” Williams said. “None of that really matters to me. I’d rather win championships and have fun collectively with my brothers.”
The season has drawn to an end, but the postseason is just beginning for the Racers. The team is focused on winning the two games in Nashville this weekend, but an at-large bid to the big dance is the end goal.
“I mean it’s a historic regular season,” Prohm said. “It’s 2015 and we’ve done two things that have never been done, ever. If we didn’t win down there and we didn’t get an at-large bid, would you be sick? No question about it. But this team knows they’ve got more work to do and they’re excited about finishing this out the right way. If we’re fortunate to win, then you move on to the next stage. This has been a special, special run. The biggest thing is let’s just see how far we can go.”
The Racers return to work tonight as they tip off at 6:30 p.m. at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville.
Story by Mallory Tucker, Sports Editor