Racer basketball season preview: Preseason rankings, returning faces and exhibition analysis

Story by DJ Pigg, Staff writer

Murray State’s men’s basketball team will take the floor for the first time Thursday since the semifinals of the OVC tournament last March.

The Racers are coming off a losing 16-17 season record in 2016-2017 that ended with a postseason run to the conference semi-finals, where they fell short against UT Martin. The men look to improve their play on the road this year after finishing last season with a 3-11 record in away games, as well as their conference play, where they finished with an 8-8 record that earned them a seven seed in the OVC tournament.

The preseason media poll has Murray State picked third in the conference behind last season’s OVC Champions and second- ranked Jacksonville State, as well as the top-ranked Belmont Bruins, who won the regular season title last season.

JSU returns senior center Giga Norbertas, senior guard Malcolm Drumwright and freshman forward Cam Martin. Belmont will return senior guard Austin Luke, senior forward Amanze Egekeze and junior forward Dylan Windler. The Bruins also bring in three high school standout freshman in guard Grayson Murphy, forward Caleb Hollander and guard Nick Hopkins.

The Racers return Preseason OVC Player of the Year Jonathan Stark, point guard from Munford, Tennessee, who made the OVC All-Tournament Team last March as a result of his postseason performance of 29.7 points per game in three OVC Tournament games. He led the OVC in scoring, averaging 21.9 points and 5.2 assists per game last season

Head Coach Matt McMahon said that he believes Stark’s honor of Preseason Player of the year is fitting and predicted his play to only get better.

“I think it is well deserved,” McMahon said. “It’s a great league with really good players. He’s a guy who can score the ball from all three areas on the floor. Then you take 22 points a game, but then he makes people better. He can get in the lane and create for others. I think you’ll see him around 200 assists this season.”

Stark was also named All-District 19 honors from the National Association of Basketball Coaches along with senior forward Terrell Miller, who averaged 16 points and 8.2 rebounds last season.

Newcomers for Murray State will be Tevin Brown, guard from Fairhope, Alabama, Ja  Morant, guard from Dalzell, South Carolina, Brion Whitley, guard from Sarasota, Florida, Devin Gilmore, forward from Picayune, Mississippi, and Zach Hopewell, guard from Owensboro, Kentucky.

McMahon said that he is very optimistic about this year’s team and the tangibles the newcomers add to the program.

“I’m really excited about our group,” McMahon said. “We have a good mix of some proven returners as well as some talented newcomers who have really added a lot to our team from a toughness and love-of-the-game standpoint.”

The men will tip-off the season with an exhibition game against McKendree University at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2. McKendree won their exhibition game last year, beating Murray State’s OVC foe SIUE 91-84.

Coach McMahon said that his main goal for Thursday’s exhibition is to get his team playing energetically and with enjoyment.

“I want to see them play with a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” McMahon said. “I want to see a lot of unselfishness and commitment and trust in each other on the defensive end of the floor. And really I just want to see them play with a lot of joy and have fun playing together.”

Following Thursday’s exhibition game, the Racers will jump into regular season play with two home games against Brescia University and Middle Tennessee, followed by an away game in Dayton, Ohio against Wright State University, and then back home to play Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in the CFSB Center.