Murray State isn’t shying away from the spotlight of being the nation’s only unbeaten team, though this type of success isn’t exactly new.
It’s one of the reasons coach Steve Prohm remains humble despite the increased attention.
His 11th-ranked Racers seek a 17th straight home victory Saturday night against Eastern Illinois – the last team to win at the CFSB Center.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed Murray State as a hefty 18 1/2-point home favorite, with the total set at 134.
Prohm, promoted from assistant after Billy Kennedy left for Texas A&M, has been a part of successful Murray State teams in recent seasons.
The Racers (20-0, 8-0 Ohio Valley) won a school-record 31 games in 2009-10, upsetting fourth-seeded Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA tournament before taking eventual national runner-up Butler down to the wire in a 54-52 loss.
After a 23-9 record and NIT appearance last season, Prohm isn’t ready to start celebrating mid-season success quite yet.
“This means a lot to our community and our school and I think we realize that,” Prohm said of being undefeated. “We’ve got a great group of kids and they are tremendously humble. I’m proud of each and every one of them. But we know there’s a lot more work to be done.”
Guard Isaiah Canaan, the team’s leading scorer at 18.7 points per game, was a part of the past two Racers teams and scored a game-high 21 points in last Saturday’s 82-65 victory at SIU-Edwardsville.
Though he’s confident Murray State can run the table, he knows every opponent is eager to be the team that finally ends the Racers’ run.
“Our coaches do a great job of trying to keep our focus and to continue to get us to remember what we did to get to this point and how hard it is to try to get to this point because we know that it can be taken away from us at the blink of an eye,” Canaan said.
Eastern Illinois should have the belief it can pull off the unthinkable.
The Panthers (9-10, 2-5), who have lost four straight, also were struggling entering last January’s meeting in Murray, Ky., but stunned the Racers 61-60. They followed that win by dropping eight in a row and 10 of their last 11.
Jeremy Granger – EIU’s leading scorer this season, averaging 16.0 points – hit a 12-foot fade-away jumper with three seconds remaining.
“It’s our home court and they came here and they beat us,” said Murray State forward Ivan Aska, who broke his right hand Dec. 30 in a 73-40 win over the Panthers. “I’m not (OK) with it.”
Aska, who missed the last six games, should be a welcome return to the lineup.
The senior forward was averaging 12.6 points and a team-high 6.0 rebounds before being injured, and Murray State was outrebounded in four of the six games Aska missed.
“A lot of key rebounds that we really haven’t been getting when we needed them, we know he’s going to handle that. Those are the rebounds we usually get,” Canaan said. “Just to have another big body down low, another bull down low to get rebounds when we need them is great.”
Canaan played 20 minutes and attempted only five field goals in the first matchup with the Panthers, who fell 63-45 at Jacksonville State on Thursday.
Alfonzo McKinnie scored 14 points and grabbed 11 boards, though Granger had season worsts of eight points and six turnovers. He scored a team-high 12 points in the first meeting with the Racers.
Murray State has won 20 of the last 23 meetings, and Eastern Illinois is 0-16 all-time against ranked opponents.