Murray State’s emphatic win over another Top 25 team boosted its already impressive resume. A victory over a surging Tennessee State team, which handed the Racers their only loss of the season, could be just as significant in terms of NCAA tournament seeding.
No. 14 Murray State insists revenge won’t be on its mind Thursday night when it visits the Tigers, who are seeking a 10th straight win.
The Racers are coming off a big week in which they clinched the Ohio Valley Conference title outright, then posted a 65-51 win over then-No. 21 Saint Mary’s on Saturday in a nationally televised BracketBusters matchup.
Isaiah Canaan scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half and Murray State (26-1, 13-1) never trailed, building a double-digit lead soon after halftime.
“This is definitely a confidence-builder for sure,” senior Jewuan Long said. “It’s a ranked team, so it lets you know that you are as good as the rankings say you are. It gives us a lot of confidence to know that we can play with other teams in bigger conferences.”
While the victory over the Gaels provides additional legitimacy to Murray State’s stellar season, which began with 23 straight wins, the Racers aren’t ready to ease up – especially against Tennessee State.
Coach Steve Prohm said his team isn’t concerned about revenge in a rematch with the only opponent to beat Murray State this season. The Racers committed 18 turnovers – three in the closing seconds – in a 72-68 home loss to the Tigers on Feb. 9.
“We didn’t do a good job of finishing the game and they beat us,” Prohm said. “There’s no revenge. It’s the next game on our schedule and we just want to play well and carry on over to the OVC tournament and on into the postseason.”
The Racers lost to Tennessee State despite Canaan scoring 31 points on 10-of-13 shooting. The junior also matched a season high with six turnovers, including one of the crucial miscues late.
Coming off another big performance over the weekend, Canaan hopes to carry his momentum over to the road. He’s totaled just 20 points in his last two away from home, shooting 26.1 percent.
He and his teammates will face a challenge at Tennessee State, which has won 10 straight at home and nine in a row overall.
After losing three of their first four conference games, the Tigers (19-10, 11-4) have won 10 of 11 and eight straight in OVC play.
They also had a BracketBusters game over the weekend, defeating Miami (Ohio) 68-61 on Sunday. Robert Covington had 14 points, six rebounds and five steals, and Tennessee State went on a 15-7 run in the final four minutes to finish a comeback from a nine-point halftime deficit.
Covington, who is fourth in the Ohio Valley with 17.9 points per game, had two steals and four points during the Tigers’ final surge.
“They’ve got good players,” Prohm said. “Coach (John) Cooper has done a tremendous job. … Robert Covington is one of the top two or three players in the league.”
The Tigers, who have lost three straight and nine of 11 at home against the Racers, are looking to win 20 games for the first time since 1978-79. They haven’t won 10 in a row since a 12-game streak that same season.
This is the final regular-season game for Tennessee State. Murray State closes at Tennessee Tech on Saturday.