Murray State cracked under the pressure in its 72-68 loss to Tennessee State.
I have no problem with saying that.
The burden of being the nation’s last undefeated team finally got to the Racers. That’s the only way to explain how a team with so many veterans — eight of the nine players in Murray State’s rotation are juniors or seniors — that have won a game in the NCAA Tournament could execute so poorly down the stretch. The three turnovers in the final 11.4 seconds were obvious. What wasn’t quite as obvious were the number of less than ideal shots that were taken down the stretch as Tennessee State made a run to erase a 13 point second half lead and, eventually, pull ahead by as much as five.
Late in the game, Murray State tried to do too much. It cost them.
I don’t fault the Racers, however.
Going undefeated throughout a season is an incredibly difficult thing to do, especially when you are playing in a league like the Ohio Valley. Every game Murray State played in conference was the biggest game of the year for their opponents. Getting a team’s best shot on a nightly basis is exhausting, and Tennessee State is one of the best teams in the league. All it took was an off-night from the Racers against a quality opponent and this was going to happen.
This shouldn’t change your opinion of the Racers. This is still a talented group with a superstar in Isaiah Canaan that has beaten the likes of Southern Miss, Memphis and Dayton. This is still a team that can win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. One loss doesn’t change that.
What it does do, however, is put the Racers in a bit of a precarious situation down the stretch. They have a tough schedule down the stretch. Not only do they face St. Mary’s in the marquee matchup of BracketBusters weekend, but their last three league games are roadies against the other three teams that make up the OVC’s top four. Throw in the fact that the OVC Tournament is played in Nashville, where Tennessee State is located, and the Racers have their work cut out for them.
If this team loses to St. Mary’s, drops one of those road games and doesn’t win the OVC automatic bid, they will be sitting somewhere around 26-4 with their three best wins coming against teams currently sitting on or around the bubble.
That’s far from a lock for an at-large bid.
The good news? Murray State’s destiny is in their hands. While I believe that the Racers are overrated when they are ranked as a top 10 team, I firmly believe that this is a group that deserves to be considered among the top 25 in the country. They are, undoubtedly, the best team in the conference. Play like it, and they will be just fine.
The only thing we lost with Murray State’s lost is the best storyline of the college basketball season.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.