The 16th-ranked Racers begin an important week as they try to slow down a hot-shooting Southeast Missouri State team and earn a third straight outright OVC title Wednesday night.
Murray State (24-1, 12-1) fell seven spots in the AP Top 25 in the wake of its first loss last Thursday, 72-68 at home to Tennessee State. The Racers bounced back Saturday by shooting 51.9 percent for an 82-63 victory over Austin Peay, securing at least a share of the regular-season conference championship.
“We knew coming in everybody was going to be looking at us trying to see what we’re going to do and how we’re going to respond after a loss,” senior guard Donte Poole said.
The Racers are excited about Saturday, when Dick Vitale comes to town to broadcast a “BracketBuster” matchup against No. 21 Saint Mary’s.
Murray State will first try to sweep Southeast Missouri State (14-11, 9-4), which held a six-point halftime lead during an 81-73 road loss to the Racers on Feb. 2. The Redhawks are shooting an OVC-best 49.3 percent this season.
“We gotta move on and get our sights set on a very, very good SEMO team,” Murray State coach Steve Prohm said. “SEMO and Tennessee State in our league are playing as good as anybody. And we gotta be ready for Wednesday.”
Murray State would clinch the league outright with a win in any of its final three OVC games, but all three are on the road, including a visit to Tennessee State.
Southeast Missouri State also looks dangerous after strong shooting efforts in back-to-back victories. The Redhawks finished at 55.6 percent in Thursday’s 86-56 rout of Tennessee-Martin and at 53.4 percent Saturday in an 85-72 win at SIU-Edwardsville.
Marland Smith matched a career high Saturday with 30 points - one fewer than he totaled over his previous three games.
“Marland had a great game,” coach Dickey Nutt told Southeast Missouri State’s official website. “This was a difficult game for us. SIUE is a dangerous team and we were concerned. We didn’t play great, but did what we needed to win the game.”
Smith will likely need to produce a performance more similar to Saturday than his six-point, five-foul effort earlier this month against Murray State - his lowest scoring output in OVC play.
The Redhawks also are hoping to do a better job defending Racers star Isaiah Canaan, who scored 24 of his 32 points in the second half of that contest. Canaan totaled 28 points in four previous games against Southeast Missouri State.
Canaan is the OVC’s top 3-point shooter at 48.1 percent. He had 23 points Saturday as well as six assists - his highest total in his last 12 games.
“I kind of took it upon myself to get Donte going, get Jewuan (Long) going, get everybody else going first,” Canaan said. “They were making shots tonight so I kept trying to feed them.”
Murray State fell 64-57 at Southeast Missouri State last Feb. 16 to end a seven-game road winning streak in the series. The Racers have not lost back-to-back visits to Cape Girardeau since 1943-44.
This is the final home game for Redhawks seniors Leon Powell, Marcus Brister, Zach House and Logan Nutt - one of the coach’s two sons on the team.