McMahon, Racers looking for tweaks after .500 start

GERRY BROOME | AP Photo

Middle Tennessee State guard Antonio Green (55) guards Villanova guard Justin Moore (5) during the first half Nov. 21 at the Myrtle Beach Invitational in Conway, S.C. Green, a redshirt-senior, is averaging more than 17 points for the Blue Raiders and could be a main defensive focus for Murray State tonight.

Tuesday's two-point loss to Missouri Valley favorite Missouri State was a perfect microcosm of Murray State's first quarter of the 2019-20 men's basketball season.

The Racers, as is, are good enough to beat anybody, but just rough enough around the edges to see a win slip by.

It happened in the team's other three losses, too: Tennessee, La Salle, Drake. All winnable in the game's latter moments, only to see the Volunteers, Explorers and Bulldogs pull down victories.

Granted, winning on the road and on a neutral floor is terribly difficult. Not many teams in the country can do it, and do it consistently.

But MSU fifth-year coach Matt McMahon is one of many coaches in college basketball to utter the classic mantra: Good teams win at home, but great teams win elsewhere.

"I'm disappointed with where our record (4-4) is, but we've got to understand it's a long season," McMahon said after Tuesday's loss. "Five of our next six games are at home. And as I've said, the standards and expectations don't change. We've got to find a way to get better, so we can win basketball games."

After shooting 8-for-27 from the field with no assists and seven turnovers in Tuesday's first half, the Racers looked much different in the second half -- shooting 14-for-32 with five assists and just three turnovers. And that was after an 0-for-5 start coming out of the break, meaning MSU shot 50% for the last 15 minutes of the game.

Sophomore guard Tevin Brown, who's played 159 of a total 160 minutes in the last four contests, had three of the assists. Senior Jaiveon Eaves erased an 0-for-4 start by shooting 4-for-5 from the field and 5-for-6 from the stripe. Freshman DaQuan Smith also erased an 0-for-4 start by shooting 3-for-5 from the field while adding three rebounds. Senior Anthony Smith had 10 points and five boards in the stretch, while freshman forward Demond Robinson scored six points and added two blocks.

Sophomore forward KJ Williams had five boards after halftime, but went 0-for-2 from the field, while senior forward Darnell Cowart also didn't look like himself, going 0-for-5 while missing the potential game-tying bucket.

Of all the guys who played critical minutes in the back-and-forth second half, it was Robinson who grabbed McMahon's attention the most.

"He was awesome," McMahon said. "Played his tail off. Really bought in to the team. One of those guys who doesn't really care about stats or how many shots he gets. Just wants to help his team win. He's really progressed on the offensive end, as far as knowing what's going on, so that's going to enable his role to really increase in a major way moving forward."

In fact, Robinson's play -- coupled with some in-game evaluations during Tuesday's defeat -- may lead to some considerable "changes" regarding McMahon's early styles and personnel packages.

"Oh there's definitely going to be changes," he added. "Just going to keep evaluating with the group out there that gives us the best chance to win. We've built this program on guys who come to work every day. I know a lot of the NBA stuff gets attention, and all the great players we've been blessed to have. But the foundation is how hard you work, how you compete and how you prepare. We're going to continue to get the guys who do those things at a consistent level on the floor. You've got to earn it. You've got to earn your time.

"And I thought Demond really stepped forward, and earned some more time (Tuesday)."

Finding balance

Murray State is currently 4-1 on the season when it shoots 16 or fewer 3-pointers, which seems simple. Eaves (6-25, 24%), D. Smith (4-23, 17.4%) and Williams (4-16, 25%) haven't exactly scorched the nets from behind the arc to start the year, leaving Brown (24-52, 46.2%) doing the heavy lifting from deep in these first eight games.

"We're going to try and continue to find an efficient offensive solution for us," McMahon said. "We showed some progress there in the second half (against Missouri State), but I think it's like most teams in America right now. We're searching for more consistency, and I think that starts with being relentless in your effort, your competitiveness and your preparation. And I thought we had four or five guys who really stepped forward in that area (Tuesday). Didn't always play well, but played their guts out. If we continue to do that, we'll get better moving forward."

Meanwhile, the Racer defense has certainly been staunch inside the arc, where it's yielding only 42.8% from the floor (117-273) and collecting 6.5 more defensive rebounds than its opponents.

The issue continues to be at the stretch. Opposing teams have hit 37.7% of its 3-pointers on the 25th fewest attempts in the country (175) -- which is 320th in the NCAA.

MTSU up

With five of its next six opponents at the CFSB Center, Middle Tennessee State (4-5) is up next for the Racers -- scheduled for 7 tonight following the MSU women's matchup against Indiana State.

Second-year coach Nick McDevitt and his Blue Raiders endured a tough five-game losing streak (Coastal Carolina, Villanova, Tulane, Ohio, Belmont) before securing an 86-38 win over Columbia International on Dec. 3.

With former Eastern Kentucky star DeAndre Dishman out with injury, McDevitt has consistently relied on redshirt-senior Antonio Green, redshirt-junior CJ Jones, sophomore Jayce Johnson and junior Donovan Sims to start the past nine games.

Green (29 makes, 40.8%) and Jones (22 makes, 48.9%) have combined to make 51 3-pointers and score 33.3 ppg.

But for as good as they've been at making it (36.1%), the Blue Raiders have been even worse than the Racers at defending the arc. Opponents are shooting 38.7% from deep against MTSU through nine games.

Murray State vs. Middle Tennessee State

Time: 7 tonight

Location: Murray

Venue: CFSB Center (8,600)

MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (91-46, 5th year)

MTSU Head Coach: Nick McDevitt (113-92, 7th year, 2nd at MTSU)

All-Time Series: MSU leads 105-36

Last Met: Dec. 8, 2018 (MSU won 64-42)

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

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

By the Numbers

MSU MTSU

PPG 72.5 79.0

PA 65.3 74.9

FG% 46.2 45.6

3PT% 31.6 36.1

D3PT% 37.7 38.7

FT% 71.1 70.2

REB 36.8 38.6

RMAR plus-7.5 plus-2.7

APG 13.1 16.3

TOPG 13.6 13.8

SPG 6.0 7.3

BPG 3.3 3.1

Murray State vs. Middle Tennessee

Time: 7 tonight

Location: Murray

Venue: CFSB Center (8,600)

MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (91-46, 5th year)

MTSU Head Coach: Nick McDevitt (113-92, 7th year, 2nd at MTSU)

All-Time Series: MSU leads 105-36

Last Met: Dec. 8, 2018 (MSU won 64-42)

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

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

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for Reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.