Murray St.-E. Illinois Preview

The Associated Press

Murray State was tabbed to finish third in the Ohio Valley Conference after being picked to win it each of the past two seasons and earning at least a share of the regular-season title each time.

Off to their best start in 76 years, the 20th-ranked Racers are playing like they're again the team to beat in the league.

Murray State looks to remain undefeated and continue its dominance of OVC rival Eastern Illinois when it plays its first road game in nearly three weeks Friday night.

The Racers (13-0, 1-0) have been off since opening conference play with a 78-54 win over Tennessee-Martin on Dec. 21 to extend their best start since the 1935-36 team went 16-0.

Donte Poole scored 15 points and Ivan Aska added 12 points and seven rebounds as Murray State shot 68.3 percent - its best effort since also hitting that mark in a 102-83 win over Tennessee State on Jan. 30, 2001.

"I'm just excited to get the win and more importantly to get the first OVC win," coach Steve Prohm said. "I'm not even thinking about the 13 wins, I'm excited to be 1-0 in the conference."

The 37-year-old Prohm has been with Murray State since 2006, starting as an assistant under Billy Kennedy before taking over when Kennedy left for Texas A&M after last season.

"We're only halfway through the season," Prohm said. "This isn't time to have an ego, this is time to continue to come together as a team and try to get better on both ends of the floor and play for one another because you have your sights on something special, a chance to continue to do special things so you can't be apart, we have to be closer than ever right now."

The Racers start a veteran team, as Poole, Aska and guard Jewuan Long are seniors, while leading scorer Isaiah Canaan and forward Ed Daniel are juniors.

Canaan, averaging 18.6 points, is 10 away from becoming the 38th Murray State player with 1,000.

"I think they play hard because they're great kids and know what it takes to win and I think we have a good relationship with one another," Prohm said. "I think we have a good trust and that helps them compete and play hard, not for me but for Murray State."

All seven of the Racers' games away from home have been fairly close, winning by an average of 6.7 points. They haven't played one since winning at then-No. 21 Memphis 76-72 on Dec. 11, and now they face a Panthers team which is 5-0 at home.

Murray State is 34-10 all-time against Eastern Illinois, winning seven of the last eight matchups.

The Panthers (6-5, 0-0) enter this meeting on a season-high three-game losing streak after blowing a nine-point lead in the second half of a 64-60 defeat at Maine on Dec. 21.

Alfonzo McKinnie had 20 points and leading scorer Jeremy Granger added 15 for the Panthers, who shot 40.3 percent and took a season-low eight free throws.

Murray State is the first ranked opponent to visit Lantz Arena since Eastern Illinois joined Division I for the 1981-82 season. The Panthers last faced a Top 25 team Nov. 25, 2003, an 81-47 loss to No. 15 Wisconsin.

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