IsaiahCanaanStMarys

If poise was the question, Murray State silenced the doubters

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It wasn’t nearly as competitive as many expected, but No. 16 Murray State had a chance to shine on the national stage and they seized the opportunity.

Behind a strong 23-point performance from All-American candidate Isaiah Canaan, the Racers took control of the game from the opening tip and took down No. 21 St. Mary’s, 65-51.

In front of a packed house in Murray, Ky., the favorites to win the Ohio Valley Conference showed why they find themselves with a 26-1 record, shooting 9-of-17 from three-point range and holding St. Mary’s to 38% shooting from the field.

The Racers used their balance of a transition game, where they thrive, and their outside shooting, led by Canaan, to never trail on Saturday evening.

Early on, it looked like the Gaels had found a way to neutralize Canaan, who had just one basket through the first 15 minutes and six points at the half.

Then the Canaan that had dominated to this point in the season emerged, scoring 17 of his 23 points in the second half, igniting the Murray State offense and punctuating the effort with an alley-oop to Brandon Garrett that made the crowd erupt with 9:22 to play.

On the defensive end, Steve Prohm’s team was able to hold a normally sharp-shooting St. Mary’s team to 2-of-14 shooting from long distance. Guard Matthew Dellavedova, playing with an injured ankle, was the only Gael able to manage a double-figure scoring night, going for 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting.

If this win did nothing else for Murray State, it should show that they are an NCAA Tournament team, whether that comes by way of an OVC Tournament championship, or an at-large bid.

Already with wins over Memphis, Southern Miss, and Dayton in the non-conference, Saturday’s win over St. Mary’s makes for a solid resumé, assuming they lose out on an automatic bid and need to make their case to the selection committee.

And they answered one other question, at least for now: that haunting intangible, “pressure,” didn’t seem to be a problem.

Many attributed Murray State’s first loss, at the hands of Tennessee State, to this “pressure,” the kind that builds with increasing national attention and the label of “last unbeaten.” Critics point to the Racers’ three turnovers in the final 11 seconds as proof.

Correct or not about the situation against Tennessee State, that same force was not at work on Saturday night.

Consider the circumstances, finding themselves on national television in a showcase game, then consider the results, a dominating performance with 58% shooting from the field.

For anyone who was ready to question one of the core pillars of Murray State after their first loss, it may be time to reconsider.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.