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Racers remain alive in OVC tourney race

By Daniel Paulling dpaulling@paducahsun.com

MURRAY ­- The Murray State women's basketball team avoided elimination for one more day.

The Racers beat Southeast Missouri 66-55 at home Wednesday night in what was a must-win game if they hope to make the OVC Tournament. To qualify, they'll need to win their final three games and for either Eastern Illinois or Austin Peay to not win again.

But Racers coach Rob Cross wouldn't focus on the possibility, which appears unlikely. Instead, he's more concerned with the present, one of the Racers' keys for Wednesday's game. He didn't want his team focused on what would need to happen for them to reach the playoffs.

"That adds undue negative pressure," Cross said. "I told the team this is no more important a game than when we played Robert Morris in the first game of the season and no more important than if we played in the OVC championship. Sometimes it's better when you worry about your process and what it takes to be successful."

For the Racers on Wednesday, they needed freshman guard Taylor Porter. She set a career high with a game-high 25 points.

"Taylor Porter, that's what she's capable of right there," Cross said. "Great midrange game and once she takes that with confidence, it opens up 3-point shots and her flow is better and she's not in a rush. Everything negative that happened to her this game, she didn't hang her head. She did something positive to make up for it."

The Racers (10-15, 3-10 OVC) received a strong performance from senior forward Jessica Winfrey, who finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds for her eighth double-double of the season and 20th of her career. The latter stands as fifth most in program history, one behind tying for fourth place.

Junior center Netanya Jackson missed her second double-double of the week by one point, finishing with 10 rebounds and nine points. The performance, however, continued her strong recent play.

The Racers trailed 27-24 at halftime but evened the score on a Porter 3-pointer just 57 seconds into the second half. Jackson produced the free throws that gave her team the lead for good, 38-37, with 12:48 left.

The Redhawks (8-18, 4-9 OVC) trimmed their deficit to one, 46-45, with 7:19 left. But a 7-0 Racers run over the next two-plus minutes iced the game. Jackson produced five of those points.

On Saturday, the Racers play UT-Martin, the three-time defending OVC champions that beat them 88-87 at the CFSB Center on Jan. 4. A Racers win and losses by either Eastern Illinois or Austin Peay that day will keep them in contention.

But that's just the first part of what must go right for the Racers to earn the No. 8 seed.

Cross, however, will keep pushing his team to focus on the rest of the season. Whether the Racers reach the postseason isn't in their control. But their focus on each possession - the focus on the present that Cross desires - remains in their control.

"(Losing to Martin) does not make the next game any less important," he said. "Hopefully we go down there and we put up a fight and we're able to come away with a victory.

"But I'm worried about the process, one possession at a time, and our players getting better one possession at a time."

Call Daniel Paulling, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8662, or follow on Twitter @DanielPaulling.

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