Thursday, March 15, 2012
Murray State builds on its special season
By Brian Bennett
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- At halftime, with his team leading Murray State 24-23, Colorado State coach and prolific Twitter user Tim Miles tweeted the following: "Win the half, we'll win the game."
Miles and the rest of America might have been thinking the same thing at that point: 30-1 or not, these Racers are nothing special. After 20 minutes against a No. 11 seed, they sure didn't look much like a top 10 team or even a No. 6 seed.
But then Murray State won the half. Convincingly. And it might have won over some skeptics with its 58-41 victory in the West Region second round at the KFC Yum! Center.
Nearly lulled to sleep early on by the Rams' sagging defense and slow tempo, the Racers ripped off an 18-2 run in the first nine minutes of the second half. They got back to their trademark up-tempo style, using pressure defense to create what guard Donte Poole called a "kamikaze" effect. Colorado State kept coughing up the ball, and Poole and his teammates went the other way for easy scores.
"We were really passive in the first half," Poole said. "We were tired of playing slow and doing things we usually don't do. We had to extend our defense, get some more steals and get out in transition."
Murray State went on an 18-2 run to begin the second half that effectively put the game away.
It wasn't always a pretty performance. Leading scorer Isaiah Canaan missed nine of his 13 shots and even airballed a wide open 3-pointer off a fast break. Murray State bricked half its 26 free throws and shot less than 40 percent from the field. Poole's aggressive defense on Colorado State guard Wes Eikmeier earned him an inadvertent elbow to the nose; he said he could hear a crack when trainers adjusted his nose back into place on the bench, and after the game a piece of gauze dangled from his right nostril.
Still, Murray State fought through it all to record its largest margin of victory ever in an NCAA tournament game. Curious fans wanting to know what this team was all about got to see that it's a deep, athletic bunch that is dangerous in the open floor.
"Every time we play, we know there's probably 1,000 or 2,000 or a number of fans who haven't seen us before," Poole said. "So we always want to play hard so people will remember us and say, 'Wow, that Murray State team is good.'"
Of course, beating a Mountain West also-ran won't completely validate that glittering regular-season record. But doing something this program has never done -- reaching the Sweet 16 -- would show that these Racers are indeed something special.
"We're still trying to build that wall," forward Ed Daniel said. "We're trying to get to that new place we've been trying to get to since day one."