Posted on: March 3, 2012 4:39 pm

Tiny Dancers: Murray State

Bubble teams everywhere rejoiced on Saturday afternoon, as Murray State came from behind in the second half to beat Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley championship game. With the Racers already set for an at-large slot if they lost, the win prevented the OVC from getting two bids.

Murray State lost only one game all season, a close game to Tennessee State in early February. The Racers started 23-0 and were the last team to lose in college basketball this year. They are very efficient at both ends of the floor, with the ability to score in different ways offensively and also forcing turnovers and contesting shots at the other end.

Despite their gaudy record, there are some people who don’t believe in Murray State’s NCAA tournament potential. However, with multiple scoring options and an All-American in Isaiah Canaan, it’s tough to count them out in any game. First-year head coach Steve Prohm has done a tremendous job since taking over the program, and is a candidate for Coach of the Year.

Player to know: Isaiah Canaan. The explosive scoring guard is an All-American and capable of carrying the Racers on the offensive end. He’s difficult to stop due to his ability to drive and his deep range. Canaan is averaging better than 19 points per game and shooting 48.2 percent on 3-pointers.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 27-1 overall, 15-1 in Ohio Valley
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2010, No. 13 seed, beat Vanderbilt 66-65 in the first round, followed by a 54-52 loss to Butler in the second round.
  • We’re thinking: 5
  • KenPom ranking: 47
  • Sagarin ranking: 41
  • RPI: 24
  • Best wins: Memphis, Saint Mary’s
  • Worst losses: Tennessee State
  • Notable stat: Murray State is one of the best shooting teams in the country, knocking down 41.4 of its long-range attempts.

-- Jeff Borzello

Posted on: March 3, 2012 10:36 am
Edited on: March 3, 2012 10:36 am

Championship game preview: Ohio Valley

Heading into the Ohio Valley tournament, everyone wanted to see two games: Tennessee Tech against Murray State in the semifinals for a third time, and a rubber match between Murray State and Tennessee State in the championship.

We got the first one on Friday night, when Murray State dominated Tennessee Tech in the second half en route to a 20-point win. We’ll get the second one on Saturday afternoon, as the only team to beat the Racers this season gets another crack at them.

Tennessee State beat Murray State back on February 9, but lost the rematch by 18 on its home court. The Tigers advanced to the title game by beating Morehead State in the semifinals, 59-52.

The key for Tennessee State will be forcing turnovers and limiting Murray State’s trips to the free-throw line. The Racers love to attack the rim and get easy opportunities at the charity stripe. On the other side, the Tigers have to take care of the ball and grab offensive rebounds for second chances. In the first meeting, Tennessee State had 15 steals; in the second one, just three.

If Murray State doesn’t win, it will still get an at-large bid, so bubble teams will be rooting for the Racers to hold serve in Nashville.

-- Jeff Borzello

Posted on: February 27, 2012 1:01 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 5:06 pm

What-to-know conference previews: Ohio Valley

Murray State has dominated the Ohio Valley discussion all season, rolling into February as the lone undefeated team in the country before dropping one to Tennessee State. How heavy of favorites are the Racers in the conference tournament?

Murray State is clearly the No. 1 team in the league heading into the tournament. The Racers lost just one game all season, to Tennessee State back on February 9. They bounced back to win their final five games, including three games and a home contest vs. Saint Mary’s. Guard Isaiah Canaan is one of the best players in the country, while Donte Poole and a healthy Ivan Aska are quality secondary options. The way to beat Murray State is to get offensive rebounds and force turnovers.

Tennessee State carried that Murray State win to a second-place finish, winning nine in a row before the season finale defeat at home to Murray State. Robert Covington is a dominant inside player, and the Tigers love getting easy opportunities from the free-throw line. They get a bye to the semifinals, along with Murray. 

Outside of Murray, Tennessee Tech might have the most talent in the conference. The Golden Eagles have two of the league’s best players in Kevin Murphy and Jud Dillard, who combined to average 38.6 points and 14.2 rebounds during the regular season. Throw in Zac Swansey and a couple of close losses to Murray, and they could be a sleeper. Don’t overlook Jacksonville State, either. The Gamecocks have won eight of 11 and play tough defense.


Title game:
Saturday, March 3 on ESPN2 (2 p.m., ET)


  1. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
  2. Kevin Murphy, Tennessee Tech
  3. Robert Covington, Tennessee State
  4. Jud Dillard, Tennessee Tech
  5. Donte Poole, Murray State

Conference RPI: 21

KenPom.com rating: 24

Sagarin rating: 22

NCAA Tournament Locks: Murray State

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: None 

Last NCAA Tournament Appearances

  • Austin Peay Governors: 2008, No. 15 seed, lost to Texas 74-54 in the first round.
  • Eastern Kentucky Colonels: 2007, No. 16 seed, lost to North Carolina 86-65 in the first round.
  • Jacksonville State Gamecocks: N/A.
  • Morehead State Eagles: 2011, No. 13 seed, beat Louisville 62-61 in the first round, followed by a 65-48 loss to Richmond in the second round.
  • Murray State Racers: 2010, No. 13 seed, beat Vanderbilt 66-65 in the first round, followed by a 54-52 loss to Butler in the second round.
  • Southeast Missouri State Redhawks: 2000, No. 13 seed, lost to LSU 64-61 in the first round.
  • Tennessee State Tigers: 1994, No. 14 seed, lost to Kentucky 83-70 in the first round.
  • Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles: 1963, lost to Loyola-Chicago 111-42 in the first round.

- Jeff Borzello

Posted on: February 9, 2012 11:54 pm

Coach who slayed Murray State speaks

John Cooper's Tennessee State team got one of the biggest wins in program history tonight. (AP)
By Matt Norlander

The last time Tennessee State beat Murray State at Murray State in regulation was the 1995-96 season. That was also the last season the Tigers finished a campaign with a winning record (15-13).

Thursday night, Tennessee State not only got that ever-elusive W at Murray State, in regulation, after a 16-year wait, but the Tigers also ensured themselves of an above-.500 record. I was able to speak with TSU third-year coach John Cooper after the game. He talked and walked from the CFSB Center to the bus.

Once he got on the bus, I could tell immediately. It was quite joyous in the background, you see (as I heard). I suspect that two-hour ride from Murray, Ky., to Nashville, Tenn., didn’t dip much in volume or enthusiasm.

This could very well be the win that defines 16-10 Tennessee State’s season. Only one team every year gets the unique delight and reward of playing spoiler to the sport’s final unbeaten. Unlikely as it was, Tennessee State smashed Murray State’s undefeated hopes Thursday night with the 72-68 outcome.

Cooper said his guys didn’t need calming down. They weren’t anxious in timeout huddles and there was no need to stress about the situation at halftime, when Murray State led 40-33. The Tigers trailed most of the second half, too. That was a “benefit,” according to Cooper, who didn’t do anything outside of the ordinary in terms of prep for this game.

Same type of scouting, same type of practice, all of it to the familiar beat Cooper and his coaches have used and helped earn the team a season-best six-game winning streak.

“I’m not one of those guys where we go and do a bunch of different things. This group simply does better by staying true to what we do,” he said. Murray State star Isaiah Canaan, who had his fourth game of more than 30 points (31) got his despite State doing its best to contain him.

“We tried to guard him well and he shot the tar out of the basketball,” Cooper said. “The goal was not to let him get his and stop everyone else.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Canaan got most of his and yet Murray State couldn’t get a home win in conference. Normally, a league’s best team getting a huge performance from the league’s best player doesn’t end in an L.

Cooper was pretty measured after what is fair to call the biggest win of his young career. He took over this team in 2009 and soon found himself with only four scholarship players thanks to the exodus of transfers that can come with a program like Tennessee State losing a head coach (Cy Alexander).

“Quite frankly, we haven’t had a lot of success in recent history with our basketball program,” Cooper said. “You don’t just jump right up and beat the big boys.”

It took him six tries, but he finally got Murray State, which is the class of the Ohio Valley — the Duke or Syracuse or UCLA of that league. He's proud. I let him talk for a few minutes after asking a general question about the program. If this sounds like he's letting off steam, he wasn't. I think Cooper was affirming aloud to himself how big the win was and how long it had been since the program was so surely moving in a good direction.

“This hasn’t happened in our program in a long time. It’s just one win, though,” Cooper said. “No one has ever, once, said anything about us. I’m not knocking the media, but no one was saying anything about us, even when they (Murray State) played SEMO (Southeast Missouri State), and that’s fine. We don’t go about that like we have a chip on our shoulder. We’ve got to prove it, and rightfully so. To win like this, it’s really hard to do this.”

Hard, sure, but also a lot of fun. The party on that bus proves it.

Posted on: February 9, 2012 10:35 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2012 10:40 pm

Murray State finally loses its first game

Isaiah Canaan's superb play, for once, wasn't enough. (AP)

By Matt Norlander

College basketball needed 94 days, but just as it’s happened every time for the past 36 years, there will be no undefeated team in the sport this season. Everyone finishes with a flaw. Murray State, surprisingly, earned its first flaw by falling on its home floor to Ohio Valley foe Tennessee State Thursday night, 72-68.

Tennessee State’s actually putting a nice run together; it's now won six straight, the longest streak of its season. Before tonight, third-year Tigers coach John Cooper had faced Murray State five times. His record: 0-5 with an average losing margin of 19.2 points. Yes. Unexpected. The last win for the Tigers over the Racers came on Valentine's Day in 2008.

The Racers were done in by two things, specifically: three turnovers in the final 12 seconds and eagerness to create T-shirts that boasted of the team's accomplishments. They had their chances Thursday night, though. In fact, the Steve Prohm's team should have won, stumbles and falls and all. Tennessee State, a team not particularly outstanding in any major statistical category, had a season-high 15 steals tonight. Racers star Isaiah Canaan scored 31, but his teammates combined for the other 37 points on 13-of-37 shooting, 3-of-13 from 3-point range.

There’s a slow and undeniable crank to any team’s season that gets to February without a scratch. When that team’s a mid-major unaccustomed to the spotlight and national attention, the vice squeezes even harder. Without knowing how the Murray State bus rides and locker room and practice sessions have been the past two or three weeks, it's fair to spice in that assumption as to why the run ended the way it did.

The real let-down here is that Murray State doesn’t get to face Saint Mary’s in BracketBusters without a loss. If it had, that game would’ve been the highlight of next Saturday’s slate. Now, it’s an intriguing game but certainly not the marquee.

This is how Murray State's perfection came undone. Thanks to RunTheFloor.com for getting the quick video.

We still love you, Racers fans.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 31, 2012 12:40 pm
Edited on: January 31, 2012 12:48 pm

Kevin Murphy scores 50, promptly heads to bed

Murphy is tied for sixth in scoring nationally, averaging 21.3 points per game. (Getty Images)
By Matt Norlander

Kevin Murphy scored a cool 50 against SIU-Edwardsville Monday night. It was a season-high in college basketball this season. The last time we had a player putting up fitty it was coming from the hands and distant jump shot of a man named Jimmer.

The half a hundred Murphy collected is a Tennessee Tech program record, previously held by Ron Filipek in 1965-66, and Jimmy Hagan in 1958-59, when those men scored 48.

After his team won with ease, 98-80, Murphy received the team ball, took in the celebratory hugs and handshakes, then headed back to his room. Shortly thereafter, he fell asleep sometime around 10:30. That’s right. No celebration. He told me on the phone Tuesday morning that he slept quite well the night before.

If Murphy tucking himself in before the late local news is surprising, consider this: he and head coach Steve Payne said they weren’t aware until late in the game that the TTU record was being encroached. With less than two minutes to go, the team realized the senior was on the cusp of breaking the record.

“I thank my teammates. My teammates just saw I was hot,” Murphy said. “Through the course of the game I didn’t even realize I had that many points. I was looking to score in whatever ways I could to help the team.”

Murphy got to 50 with aggression. He attacked the lane, scored on a hoop-and-harm, earning a three-point play with 1:36 to go. Murphy said he once put up more than 60 in a summer AAU game, but he doesn’t know the number. In the hours after the game and even Tuesday morning Murphy was hearing from old high school friends that he hadn’t talked to in months.

The huge game lifted him to second all-time in Golden Eagles history, with 1,827 career points.

Murphy’s always been a scorer (he averages 21.3 points per game, tied with Maryland's Terrell Stoglin for sixth-best in the country), but he’s saved his best outings for the most recent games. Last Thursday’s win over Eastern Kentucky turned out to be foreshadowing: Murphy had a then-career best 34. He’s come a long way from what he was as a freshman. Murphy used to be a volume shooter. In his first season, he took 27 percent of his team’s shots yet scored a dismal .9 points per possession.

For Payne, a first-year coach at TTU, it was the second time he'd ever been on the bench while a player of his put up this many points. As an assistant at Georgetown College in Kentucky, he once watched a player score 51. Payne's proud of Murphy and his team so far. The coaches believe this team could easily be 8-2, not 6-4, in the Ohio Valley.

Yes, that's where TTU resides, the OVC. Where undefeated Murray State plays. The Racers have already beaten 14-9 Tennessee Tech this year, by eight. The rematch comes Feb. 25, the final game of the regular season. Imagine if Murray State has to go into Tennessee Tech with an unbeaten record and goes up against a team with a guy who's scored 50 this season. 

“That was going to be a big game regardless of what’s going on,” Payne said.

And now this. That's what Murphy's game Monday night did. It elevated his profile but also added a layer of drama and intrigue to Murray State's quest. Maybe the Racers will have lost a game by then. But as of now, the Feb. 25 game stands as the second-biggest remaining on the schedule, falling behind the BracketBusters tilt against Saint Mary's.

The only thing Murphy will keep from the game is the ball, which is currently in the hands of TTU’s athletic department. They’re getting it properly decorated before he can take it home.

Posted on: January 29, 2012 7:06 pm

The Murray State song/vid you weren't waiting for

By Matt Norlander

Thanks to a rap video/anthem that is largely void of any sense of irony and goes on for three minutes longer than it should, it's safe to say Murray State has officially arrived.

Titled, "Murray State Anthem," the rap tune and video completely disembodies a lot of what Murray State basketball represents: slanted rhymes; half-interested players standing around on the gym floor; arrogant mascots; part-time frat boys/full-time white rappers; and Dick Vitale references.

Trubz 'N' Matlock, which is surely just nicknames for two dudes named Tristan and Matthew, have given the Murray State community a rallying cry. Let us all join in. Murray State Rrray-sirs!

If Murray State winds up losing its next game, our answer is already known.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 27, 2012 12:10 pm

Podcast: Pat Forde makes his podcast debut

By Matt Norlander

I'm humbled to bring on, for the first time, Yahoo Sports national college columnist Pat Forde. He's freed himself from the shackles of covering college football, mostly, and so he can now fully indulge in our sport. Glad to have him and today's pod is a breeze of a listen. We swap new-job stories, apologize to Frank Haith and get a sneak peek at the best late-night places to go in New Orleans.

If you aren't already, give him a follow on Twitter.

Here's what we hit on:
  • From the beginning: How Pat covers hoops in the season -- football season. We also get into his job switch from ESPN.com to Yahoo Sports, and how he celebrated the move.
  • 6:52: The sport lacking that national conversation, those outstanding stars and having some transcendence right now. Normally this has been the case the past 12 years in college hoops, but we hoped/expected for more this year.
  • 11:30: I remember the night Frank Haith was hired at Missouri. I also remember Pat ordering a round of drinks -- for himself. Now the Tigers are really good and Pat wants to say he's sorry.
  • 17:40: Moving on to Indiana, most specifically, if the Hoosiers have put their best basketball behind them this season.
  • 20:29: Pat's one of the few national guys, along with Parrish, to have seen Murray State in person. He shares his impressions and brings up why they're similar to Indiana State, the same Indiana State that made the 1979 national championship game. Of course, there is no Larry Bird here.
  • 24:20: Right now a lot of low- and mid-major teams that are undefeated in conference and seem to be setting themselves up to have very, very strong years in league play. I think this means we'll have a minimum of three non-BCS teams in the Sweet 16 this year, probably more.
  • 28:15: Pat's got quite a few recommendations for places to go in New Orleans for the Final Four. Yes, I'm already excited.

Again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast--whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. The RSS feed is another way to keep the podcasts coming to you ASAP. We've got a Zune download link as well.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com