Feb 18, 2012, 9:40 PM EDT
It wasn’t nearly as competitive as many expected, but No. 16 Murray State had a chance to shine on the national stage and they seized the opportunity.
Behind a strong 23-point performance from All-American candidate Isaiah Canaan, the Racers took control of the game from the opening tip and took down No. 21 St. Mary’s, 65-51.
In front of a packed house in Murray, Ky., the favorites to win the Ohio Valley Conference showed why they find themselves with a 26-1 record, shooting 9-of-17 from three-point range and holding St. Mary’s to 38% shooting from the field.
The Racers used their balance of a transition game, where they thrive, and their outside shooting, led by Canaan, to never trail on Saturday evening.
Early on, it looked like the Gaels had found a way to neutralize Canaan, who had just one basket through the first 15 minutes and six points at the half.
Then the Canaan that had dominated to this point in the season emerged, scoring 17 of his 23 points in the second half, igniting the Murray State offense and punctuating the effort with an alley-oop to Brandon Garrett that made the crowd erupt with 9:22 to play.
On the defensive end, Steve Prohm’s team was able to hold a normally sharp-shooting St. Mary’s team to 2-of-14 shooting from long distance. Guard Matthew Dellavedova, playing with an injured ankle, was the only Gael able to manage a double-figure scoring night, going for 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting.
If this win did nothing else for Murray State, it should show that they are an NCAA Tournament team, whether that comes by way of an OVC Tournament championship, or an at-large bid.
Already with wins over Memphis, Southern Miss, and Dayton in the non-conference, Saturday’s win over St. Mary’s makes for a solid resumé, assuming they lose out on an automatic bid and need to make their case to the selection committee.
And they answered one other question, at least for now: that haunting intangible, “pressure,” didn’t seem to be a problem.
Many attributed Murray State’s first loss, at the hands of Tennessee State, to this “pressure,” the kind that builds with increasing national attention and the label of “last unbeaten.” Critics point to the Racers’ three turnovers in the final 11 seconds as proof.
Correct or not about the situation against Tennessee State, that same force was not at work on Saturday night.
Consider the circumstances, finding themselves on national television in a showcase game, then consider the results, a dominating performance with 58% shooting from the field.
For anyone who was ready to question one of the core pillars of Murray State after their first loss, it may be time to reconsider.
- How concerned should North Carolina fans be that Brandon Ingram passed on the Tar Heels? 4
- Duke lands five-star Class of 2015 wing Brandon Ingram 3
- College basketball’s seven biggest early entry losers for the 2015-2016 season 1
- College basketball’s six biggest early entry winners for the 2015-2016 season 5
- Austin Hatch’s inspirational basketball career has come to a close 3
- UPDATED: 2015-2016 College Basketball Way-Too-Early Preseason Rankings 2
- 2015 College Basketball Updated Early Entry List 14
- Duke lands commitment from elite PG Derryck Thornton, who will reclass (18)
- 2015 College Basketball Updated Early Entry List (14)
- UPDATED: 2015-2016 College Basketball Way-Too Early Preseason Top 25 (9)
- Louisville adds key grad transfer Damion Lee (8)
- College basketball’s six biggest early entry winners for the 2015-2016 season (5)