McMahon anticipating shooting uptick; MSU opens league play

Associated Press

UT Martin forward Quintin Dove (right) pulls in a rebound next to Baylor guard Jared Butler during a Dec. 18 game in Houston. Dove and guard Parker Stewart are the type of all-league players that could propel the Skyhawks in 2020, according to MSU coach Matt McMahon, and will provide the Racer defense a stout test tonight as OVC play begins in Murray.

Tevin Brown's 3-point percentage — .439 (36-for-82) — continues to be a thing of beauty for the Murray State sophomore guard. And despite providing so many other skills to the game, including an Ohio Valley Conference-best 36 minutes per game, the longball is his signature.

It's also supposed to be the calling card of senior wing Jaiveon Eaves and freshman point guard DaQuan Smith, as well, as both have been lauded as premier perimeter shooters by the Racer coaching staff.

Percentages, however, haven't fallen in either one's favor.

Eaves, likely to return to the lineup this week after sitting out against Cumberland last Saturday, is just 11-for-38 from the arc in 10 games (28.9%).

And Smith, recently thrust into more minutes as the team's starting point guard, is just 12-for-47 from the arc in 12 games and 10 starts (25.5%).

Both have shown moments of incredulous precision from deep in non-conference play, but it's clear this staff is relying on Brown, Eaves and Smith to take the bulk of the shots from deep, as they already own 167 of the team's 216 attempts this year (77.3%).

So, how do those guys get better?

“The gym's always open,” noted MSU's fifth-year coach Matt McMahon. “It's a matter of getting in there and putting in the work. When you get those reps, when you put in the work, not only do you get better ... but I think it helps your confidence, when you're seeing the ball go through the net and you're living in the gym and continuing to work on your game.

“And I think offensively, it's getting better at our execution, so that those looks from behind the arc are cleaner and more wide open. And it's being better defensively, so you can get out in transition and hopefully get some easier scoring opportunities. I think it all works together, but it definitely starts with the hard work and the time and investment in getting confidence and improvement in your game.”

Certainly, Brown, Eaves and Smith have all been collectively working behind the scenes to be more efficient at generating from deep.

And that's good, because McMahon and his staff are going to keep calling the same three numbers until someone gets hot.

“We have some guys who, I think, are very good shooters ... who haven't shot the ball to their potential at this point in the season,” McMahon added. “I expect those numbers to catch up as we get more games and get more reps.”

Robinson rolling

After his 16-point, eight-rebound, four-block performance against Cumberland last Saturday, MSU freshman forward Demond Robinson is now toting 14 blocks and a league-tying 1.6 blocks per game (alongside Belmont's Nick Muszynski).

He's also shooting 73.7% from the floor, good for second-best in the OVC, and easily takes McMahon's nod as the most improved player through the first 12 games of the 2019-20 season.

“He's blessed with a (7-foot-5) wingspan to go with his 6-8 frame,” McMahon said. “He has very good timing. And I think it's really nothing we've done as coaches, but just his ability and instincts at the defensive end of the floor. What shows up in the stats are the blocks, but more importantly overall, he's able to do a good job protecting the rim for us, and help cover up for mistakes that are made.

“Whether he blocks it or not, I think he does a great job contesting shots around the goal.”

OVC play opens with UT Martin

Tonight at 7, Murray State begins its 72nd season in the Ohio Valley Conference, when it hosts visiting UT Martin (4-7) at the CFSB Center.

Fourth-year head coach Anthony Stewart is toting an impressive amount of firepower in his starting lineup, beginning with his son: four-star guard and former University of Pittsburgh standout Parker Stewart.

The 6-5, 200-pound sophomore is averaging 18.2 ppg (second in the OVC) on 39.1% from the arc, while chipping in 4.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

Alongside him is 6-8, 210-pound senior forward Quintin Dove, who is far more than just Ja Morant's posterboy in last season's baseline slam seen ’round the world. This year, he's averaging 16.8 ppg (fourth in the OVC), 7.0 rpg (fifth in the OVC), 53.2% shooting (11th in the OVC), 83.9% from the line (fourth in the OVC), 3.7 offensive boards per game (second in the OVC) and 30.9 minutes per game (eighth in the OVC).

And then there's 6-3, 205-pound guard Derek Hawthorne Jr., who's been averaging 13.6 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 47.7% from the field.

“When you look at UT Martin, you're talking about — by the numbers — one of the top three offensive teams in our league,” McMahon said. “Very explosive at that end of the floor. And if you look at the success of teams over the years in our league, a common thread of the formula is having a couple of all-league players. And they definitely have that with Stewart and Dove.

“Hawthorne, a teammate of Jaiveon Eaves' in junior college, is a very good player. And they scored 72 points together in their win (Sunday). I just look at that end of the floor and their ability to score — score in bunches — it presents a lot of challenges for our defense.”

On the opposite end, however, UT Martin opens conference play not just as one of the poorer defenses in the league, but in the country. The Skyhawks have played only three home games so far this season, but are currently surrendering an NCAA-worst 42.2% from the arc and better than 50% from the floor (346th).

Murray State vs. UT Martin

Time: 7 tonight

Location: Murray, Ky.

Venue: CFSB Center (8,600)

MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (94-47, 5th year)

UTM Head Coach: Anthony Stewart (46-60, 4th year)

All-Time Series: MSU leads 51-7

Last Met: Feb. 21, 2019 (MSU won 85-75)

Listen Live: Froggy 103.7 FM (PxP: Neal Bradley, Color: Kenny Roth)

Follow Live: ESPN+, @RacersHoops, @RacerDave23, @dreamarlowe85

By the Numbers

MSU UTM

PPG 74.7 77.0

PA 61.3 83.0

FG% 46.5 46.0

3PT% 32.9 34.7

D3PT% 34.3 42.2

FT% 71.0 71.7

REB 39.3 37.0

RMAR plus-10.5 minus-2.2

APG 14.9 11.5

TOPG 13.6 11.8

SPG 5.8 5.1

BPG 3.8 2.9

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