Murray State (27-4) has won eleven straight games and everyone in the college basketball world is talking about Ja Morant. And they should be.
But the Racers are more than just the sophomore superstar. Coach Matt McMahon has a talented roster that includes Morant, another all conference player, the OVC’s Defensive Player of the Year, a member of the all-Freshman Team and a member of the All Newcomer Team.
The Racers had to win two thrilling Ohio Valley Conference tournaments to earn their spot in March Madness. They avenged their only two league losses by edging Jacksonville State and Belmont before huge crowds in Evansville, Indiana.
We know the Racers led the nation in highlight reel dunks and passes from Morant, but the OVC champs led their league in points allowed, defensive shooting percentage (on two-pointers and on triples) and blocked shots. The Murray, Kentucky based school balls on both ends of the floor.
Let’s Meet the Racers
Matt McMahon is in his fourth year at Murray. He is 86-41, but more importantly, under his leadership the Racers are 53-10 over the last two years and are making their second-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The last three Murray State head coaches have averaged four years with the Racers before moving on to larger stages. Mick Cronin left for Cincinnati, Billy Kennedy for Texas A&M and Steve Prohm went to Iowa State.
McMahon played for and coached under Buzz Peterson and apprenticed with Prohm for four seasons before taking over the Murray State reins. His teams play aggressive, high-octane offense and defend tenaciously.
This team is known for Morant, his NBA draft prospects and his highlight reel dunks. The kid is great. The 6’4 sophomore led the OVC in scoring (24.6 points per game) and led the nation in assists, averaging 10 per game. His pin-point passes with either hand are astounding and he’s willing to get dirty inside. The point guard averaged 5.5 rebounds this season.
McMahon says Morant is the team’s most valuable player because, he says to quote Peyton Manning, “he makes the most players valuable.”
This star can drive it, dunk it, pass it, splash it and smile while he’s doing it.
McMahon says Morant makes really difficult plays look extremely simple.
All-conference wing Shaq Buchanan is also the OVC’s ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ and the player that McMahon says gives his team its culture of toughness and grit on defense. The 6’3 Buchanan averages 13 points per game and is third in the OVC with 1.8 steals per game. McMahon calls him a “shut-down defender.”
All-Freshman Team member Tevin Brown is what McMahon calls an “elite-level shooter.” His three-point percentage isn’t great yet, but he is streaky good. He converted 84 long distance shots and made 80% of his free throws. The 6’5 wing is learning defensive passion from Buchanan and was a three-star recruit coming out of Fairhope, Alabama.
Brown scored a career-high 31 points against UT Martin and averaged 11.7 points per game.
When center Anthony Smith was injured there was concern in Murray, Kentucky about the Racers’ ability to score inside to keep the pressure off their perimeter game.
Then Darnell Cowart came to the rescue. The 6’8 transfer struggled early, but averaged 12.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per OVC game. He finished the season with ten-straight double digit scoring performances. In five of those games, he also grabbed at least ten rebounds.
McMahon says Cowart’s inside presence has freed up Morant and company to fire from outside and drive to the rim.
Murray defends and they balance the floor offensively. They will be a very dangerous lower-seeded team.