While first-year coach Steve Prohm has a low-key approach, the results have given Murray State a high national profile.
Prohm’s team has handled the national attention of being the last unbeaten Division I team fairly well for nearly three weeks. Murray State (23-0, 11-0) has had to work more to keep that unblemished record and grinded out a 65-58 victory at last-place Tennessee-Martin on Saturday.
Isaiah Canaan, Latreze Mushatt and Jewuan Long each scored 11 points for the Racers, who shot a season-worst 17.6 percent (3 for 17) from 3-point range - well off their season mark of 40.7 percent.
“They had jumped on us early, but we kept our composure,” said forward Ivan Aska, who had eight points off the bench. “We did what we had to do and stuff like that. We didn’t get rattled too much.”
One of the reasons the Racers don’t rattle easy has been Prohm’s steady demeanor. A long-time assistant at Murray State before Billy Kennedy left for Texas A&M, Prohm knows he doesn’t have to micromanage a squad of mainly upperclassmen.
“They’ve got a lot of experience. They’ve got a lot of togetherness, so I think they can lean on each other,” the coach said. “It’s about keeping everything in perspective, understanding what’s at stake each night and then having tough-minded kids and we have that.”
Canaan might embody that toughness the most. The junior guard is averaging a team-high 18.9 points and shooting 46.3 percent from 3-point range. He has averaged 9.2 points in five games while starting one versus the Tigers - all wins - and has made 7 of 12 from beyond the arc in those contests.
Aska is continuing to play his way back to full strength after missing six games with a broken hand. The senior power forward has averaged 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in three games off the bench since returning.
While the notoriety of knocking off the last of the unbeatens would be a boon for Tennessee State (15-10, 8-4), a victory would also give the Tigers sole possession of second place in the Ohio Valley.
They enter this contest on a five-game winning streak, with three of those victories coming on the road. Tennessee State used a 15-0 run to rally from a seven-point second-half deficit for a 75-72 win at Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, getting 23 points and 13 rebounds from Robert Covington despite him sitting out the final 8:18 of the first half with foul trouble.
Covington is Tennessee State’s go-to player, averaging team highs of 17.8 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 43.1 percent from 3-point range and 51.8 percent overall. The 6-foot-8 small forward has an OVC-leading seven double-doubles this season and has averaged 11.8 points in five lifetime games versus the Racers.
The Tigers, who lost 102-69 at then-No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 22, have dropped 15 straight to ranked opponents by an average of 25.6 points since the start of the 1996-97 season.
Murray State has won eight in a row between the teams since an 83-75 defeat in the 2008 OVC tournament and leads the all-time series 46-15.