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