Men's Basketball

Murray State turns up defense, tunes out cold shooting in opening win

Murray State forward Edward Daniel was fouled by Colorado State forward Pierce Hornung as he spun to the rim.
Murray State forward Edward Daniel was fouled by Colorado State forward Pierce Hornung as he spun to the rim. AP

LOUISVILLE — For Murray State, there would be no "dream season" without the "D."

With the No. 6-seeded Racers clinging to a 24-23 lead on No. 11 Colorado State at halftime of Thursday's NCAA Tournament round of 64 opener, Coach Steve Prohm took one look at the stat sheet and knew what was wrong.

"We had one steal and only one deflection," Prohm said. "I told our guys, that's not Murray State basketball."

The 37-year-old, first-year head coach got his message delivered.

Putting a suffocating grip on Colorado State's offense, Murray (31-1) earned its third all-time NCAA Tournament victory with a 58-41 win before a pro-Murray crowd — including former Racers coach Billy Kennedy — in the KFC Yum Center.

In a bid for the first Sweet 16 appearance in Murray basketball history, the Racers will face No. 3 seed Marquette on Saturday.

Star guard Isaiah Canaan shook off a rough shooting day (4-for-13, 1-for-6 three-pointers) to lead the Racers with 15 points. Senior running mate Donte Poole shook off an elbow that bloodied his nose to score 13.

In all, six Murray players scored at least six points.

Pierce Hornung led CSU with 12 points and 17 rebounds.

So stifling was the Murray "D" after halftime, Colorado State scored one field goal in the first 10:29. That allowed the Racers to put the game away with an 18-2 run.

In the second half, CSU (20-12) had 35 offensive possessions that yielded seven field goals and 14 turnovers.

That ratio won't win many NCAA Tournament games.

"I thought their team defense the second half (was) outstanding," said Rams Coach Tim Miles of Murray. "Their physicality, I think, got us completely off the attack."

Said Hornung: "I never felt like we could get (the ball) into our operating areas."

Canaan said MSU discovered in a frigid-shooting first half (9-for-26 field goals) that it was going to have to rely on its defense to advance.

"Shots weren't falling. We weren't getting the looks we usually get," Canaan said. "We had to rely on what we're built around. We started doing that in the second half, we started getting deflections, turning it into steals, and that was the outcome of the game."

Murray's defense was so good, the Racers' shaky foul shooting, 13-for-26, didn't bite them. Murray was shooting 73 percent from the line before Thursday.

"I really don't know (what was wrong)," Canaan said. "We've got to do a better job. We usually make them."

The Murray State nucleus that has made Prohm's debut season a smashing success was recruited when Kennedy was head man. He left Murray after last season to become head coach at Texas A&M.

Prohm was Kennedy's longtime assistant. Of his former boss's presence Thursday, Prohm smiled and said, "You want to make your mentor proud."

After the game, Poole — MSU's second-leading scorer coming into the NCAAs at 14.3 — appeared to be sporting gauze in one of his nostrils. Murray publicists did not let the media speak to him.

On an NCAA-distributed quote sheet, Poole said, "I'm going to get some X-rays on (his nose) and find out more later."

Prohm said Poole — who returned to Thursday's game after suffering the injury — would be able to play Saturday.

For Murray, what's at stake against Marquette is a chance to make school history by earning a berth in a regional semifinal for the first time ever.

"Our goal is to win this (sub-region) and try to move on to Phoenix," Prohm said of the West Regional site. "Anything less than that is a disappointment."