Murray State hosts No. 21 St. Mary’s in a nationally-televised BracketBusters game on Saturday and even the Racers are wondering just how they’ll measure up against the West Coast Conference leader.
“It’s kind of like everyone wants to see what we’re going to do how we’re going to react. So, I mean, it’s just a good test for us,” Racers guard Donte Poole said. “It’s going to be a very intense game.”
The school issued a warning to students about scalping their free tickets before the Racers’ final home appearance this season, the latest example of big-time basketball that’s invaded southwestern Kentucky after the Racers (25-1) won their first 23 games.
The last unbeaten team in the nation finally fell to Tennessee State on Feb. 9, a loss that lingered even though the Racers have gone on to win a conference title in each of the last three years include this season with wins over Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri State.
“The Tennessee State game is still kind of surreal a little bit,” Racers coach Steve Prohm said. “I’ve moved past it a little bit more.”
Murray State will host its sixth straight sellout and is expected to exceed the all-time attendance record of 8,691 set earlier this season, and tickets have popped up on secondary markets - including over $600 for a pair of nonstudent tickets listed on eBay on Friday afternoon.
“We hope our students would use their tickets to attend this weekend’s game,” associate athletic director Paul Bubb said. “But we realize there are those who may try to sell their tickets.”
The school has measures in place to stop resale of student tickets, meaning nonstudents who attempt to use them will be turned away.
Saint Mary’s (23-4) has lost two of its last three in league play and is dealing with injuries to guards Stephen Holt and leading scorer Matthew Dellavedova. Holt did not make the 2,300-mile trip because of a right knee injury sustained in a 75-60 loss to Loyola Marymount on Wednesday.
“Our defense wasn’t very good and we need to improve that and just pay attention to the little things,” Dellavedova said. “If we do that, I think we’ll be OK.”
Dellavedova, who is averaging 15.5 points a game, rolled an ankle in that game, but is expected to play in what is an important matchup for NCAA tournament seeding purposes and maybe an at-large bid if either team sustains a serious late-season slide.
“We’re not doing a good job defensively, and it’s been coming on. It’s like I told them, `You get what you tolerate,’” said Gaels coach Randy Bennett, who is wearing a cast on his left hand after breaking his thumb last month. “We knew these last two, three weeks were going to be tough any. We go play Murray State. They’ve lost one game, so it’s going to be a tough game.”
And following two tough days of travel. St. Mary’s flew from California to Kansas City then to Nashville on Thursday before practicing at Vanderbilt on Friday morning. They then took the two-hour bus ride to Murray, Ky. on Friday afternoon.
Both teams are led by their guards with Dellavedova starring for the Gaels and Isaiah Canaan running the point for the Racers. Canaan, averaging 19.2 points per game, had his second lowest output of the season when he scored nine in a 75-66 victory over Southeast Missouri on Wednesday.
Poole picked him up with 25 points and said the Racers have a deeper team than just Canaan and plan to do more than just rest on another OVC conference crown beginning with Saturday’s matchup.
“Not every game is going to be Isaiah’s day. Not every game is he going to score 30 or 20 points. So that’s just when other guys have to step up,” Poole said. “There’s just so much more we want to accomplish. It’s not only about a regular season championship, we want to go and win a conference tournament championship and go and make some noise in the NCAA tournament.”