Murray St.-Morehead St. Preview
And then there were two.
Murray State tries to remain with Syracuse as the only undefeated teams in Division I on Wednesday night when it faces reigning Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion Morehead State.
The 12th-ranked Racers (18-0, 6-0) emerged with the No. 1 Orange as the last of the unbeatens after No. 3 Baylor was beaten at Kansas on Monday night. Murray State is off to its best start in the program's history and enjoying the longest win streak in school history, but now faces a difficult challenge at Morehead State (9-10, 3-3), where it has not won since a 64-52 victory Feb. 9, 2008.
First-year coach Steve Prohm, though, thinks his team has the mettle to notch its eighth road victory this season even without starting forward Ivan Aska, who averages 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds, and will miss his fifth straight game with a broken bone in his right hand suffered Dec. 30.
''I'm proud of these guys, we've weathered every storm all year so far,'' Prohm said. ''If you look, I don't know if it was in our game notes, we have the second most road wins in the country - second most in the country behind Cleveland State. I read that last night, and that's impressive."
One of the reasons Murray State has been successful on the road is its clutch free throw shooting. The Racers have made 79.4 percent of their foul shots on the road, ranking them among the top 10 in the country.
They also showed the ability to hit them at home in their last game, sinking their final 15 attempts over the final 10 minutes of Saturday's 82-74 win over Tennessee Tech. Donte Poole scored a career-high 28 points and Isiah Canaan added 24 for Murray State, which overcame 37.7 percent shooting - its second-worst mark this season - by outscoring Tennessee Tech 27-16 at the charity stripe.
''Credit our guys' resiliency,'' Prohm said. ''We're having to play a lot of different ways and we're just trying to figure things out and they're doing things on the fly and making adjustments and I couldn't be prouder of them.''
Morehead State is far from the team that not only won last year's OVC tournament but also upset Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Eagles have struggled to find consistency even with two returning starters and four key holdovers from that team.
They avoided a third consecutive loss Saturday with a 57-54 home victory over Eastern Kentucky, getting a career-high 26 points from Drew Kelly and season highs of 11 points and eight rebounds from freshman Angelo Warner in his fourth collegiate start.
"I'm very proud of the way Drew and Angelo played tonight," coach Donnie Tyndall said. "Drew was terrific offensively and Angelo showed why he's one of the top freshmen in the league."
Tyndall's primary area of concern, however, may be his team's perimeter defense. Morehead State has allowed opponents to hit an OVC-high 142 3-pointers, and Murray State is in the top 10 in the country in both overall 3-point shooting (43.1 percent) and on the road (43.7 percent).
Additionally, OVC foes are connecting at a 41.1 percent clip from beyond the arc against Morehead State, though Murray State has uncharacteristically struggled there the last two games, going 11 for 36.
The Eagles' three-game home win streak over Murray State is in large part due to Denver Nuggets' first-round pick Kenneth Faried, who had double-doubles in all three victories while averaging 18.0 points and 11.0 rebounds.
This is the first Top 25 opponent Morehead State has hosted since an 89-70 loss to No. 9 Western Kentucky on Feb. 20, 1971.