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Murray State gears up for another March run

The Racers are no strangers to the moment, and on Thursday evening, they’ll matchup with San Francisco

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 05 Ohio Valley Tournament - Morehead State v Murray State
Tevin Brown is averaging 16.9 points this season for the Racers.
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First Round Matchup

Opponent: No. 10 San Francisco

Date: Thursday, March 17

Location: Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

Time: 9:40 p.m.

TV: CBS

DraftKings Line: Murray State -2, O/U 137.5

How they got here:

Murray State has built a mid-major powerhouse, and this may be its best team yet.

When Murray State last made the NCAA Tournament in 2019, current NBA superstar Ja Morant led the Racers to a decisive victory over Marquette in the Round of 64. The Racers lost to Florida State in their next game, but the victory over Marquette was confirmation that this program is capable of playing with and beating teams from major conferences.

After a disappointing 2021 season by program standards, the Racers took no time to bounce-back. Murray State enters the tournament with a record of 30-2. One loss came at the hands of East Tennessee State in the second week of the season, and the other came against Auburn, a No. 2 seed.

The Racers made a joke out of Ohio Valley play, finishing conference play with a flawless 18-0 record. Murray State’s strong resume earned the team a No. 7 seed (which still feels too low). On Thursday night, they’ll meet a fellow mid-major in the 10th-seeded San Francisco Dons. This matchup could produce one of the most thrilling affairs of the first two days of the Tournament.

Players to watch:

KJ Williams: The Racers are led by junior forward KJ Williams. Williams has had a brilliant career in blue and gold, he has averaged in double figures for three consecutive seasons. Entering Thursday evening’s showdown, Williams leads the Racers averaging 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. One of the reasons the matchup with San Francisco is so intriguing is because the Dons are also headlined by a dominant big man in senior forward Yauhen Massalski. Two of the most feared paint presences in all of college hoops will be squaring off, and it’s possible whichever star player gets the better of this matchup will wind up winning the game.

Tevin Brown: Like Williams, guard Tevin Brown is a four-year veteran with this Racer program. Already well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best players and most reliable players in program history, Brown leaves his impact in all facets and possesses the ability to score in a plethora of ways. On the season, Brown is averaging 16.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per matchup. Additionally, Brown is probably the best 3-point shooter on this roster as he converts on 38.9% of his attempts from beyond the arc. When the Racers throttled Marquette in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Brown scored 19 points. They’ll need another big matchup Thursday evening.

Justice Hill: There are a few reasons as to why Murray State is back in the national limelight after a down season. One of them is the emergence of sophomore guard Justice Hill. After averaging just over five points per game a season ago, Hill is currently third on the Racers in scoring with 13.2 points. Hill has stepped up as Murray State’s primary ball-handler, and he leads the squad with five assists per game.

Keys to Victory

Control the glass: Both of these teams are strong on the glass. Whichever side is able to establish an advantage on the boards should be in great position to prevail victorious. Murray State is one of the strongest rebounding teams in all of college basketball, boasting the 11th-best offensive rebounding percentage per KenPom. Limiting extra opportunities will be vital in a game that could come down to the wire.

Make your free throws: If you break down Murray State’s profile, it’s hard to find many weaknesses. Head coach Matt McMahon has built a very well-rounded team that doesn’t possess many flaws, but one weakness that stands out like a sore thumb is the team’s percentage from the charity stripe. Murray State is only converting on 69.8% of their free throws, which ranks a putrid 239th. In a game that could be decided by one or two possessions, the Racers can’t afford to leave points on the free throw line.