Morehead St.-Murray St. Preview
Ranked for the first time in three years, No. 25 Murray State looks to advance to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title game in Nashville with its 25th straight win Friday night against the surging Eagles.
The Racers (26-4) haven't lost since dropping three in a row in November, earning the top seed in the OVC tournament with a league-record winning streak that's also the second-longest in the nation.
They wrapped up the school's first unbeaten OVC run at 16-0 - only the fifth such season in the league's 67-year history - with a hard-fought 73-67 victory at Tennessee-Martin last Saturday.
Murray State heads into the tourney semifinals ranked for the first time since finishing the 2011-12 season at No. 10. The squad, however, understands nothing is guaranteed as it looks to claim its first NCAA tournament berth in three years.
The Racers were the OVC's No. 2 seed last season before an 86-83 loss to Eastern Kentucky in the semifinals.
"I think last year, from me on down, we pressed a little in that game," coach Steve Prohm said. "We just need to go play. We've got a good group. We've got a talented group. We can't get caught up in, hey what happens if this or what happens if that. We've just got to go play and if we do that, whatever happens, happens but I'll take my chances."
Murray State hasn't faced the fifth-seeded Eagles (17-16) since extending its series winning streak to five with a 66-57 road win in the league opener Jan. 3. Jeffery Moss led the Racers with 23 points, while All-OVC first-teamer Jarvis Williams added 12 points and eight rebounds and Cameron Payne scored 12 with seven assists.
Payne, the first sophomore to win OVC Player of the Year since Popeye Jones in 1990, ranks in the nation's top 15 at 20.2 points per game. The guard had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists versus Tennessee-Martin.
Murray State, which led the league in scoring (78.8) and field-goal percentage (48.3), shot 51.2 percent in the first meeting with Morehead State. The Racers, second in defensive field-goal percentage (40.6), limited the Eagles to 32.7 percent shooting.
Following a 79-74 win over No. 8 seed Southeast Missouri in Wednesday's tourney opener, the Eagles extended their streak to five with Thursday's 76-65 victory over fourth-seeded Tennessee-Martin at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium.
"Morehead is playing really well," Prohm said.
The Eagles haven't won six straight since a nine-game run during the '10-11 season.
They've dropped four straight versus ranked opponents - including a 66-60 loss to No. 12 Murray State in January 2012 - since beating No. 4 Louisville 62-61 in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament.