NCAA Tournament

Murray State one of college basketball’s hottest teams heading into NCAA Tournament

Murray State’s Jonathan Stark celebrated after hitting a three-pointer against Eastern Kentucky on Jan. 27.
Murray State’s Jonathan Stark celebrated after hitting a three-pointer against Eastern Kentucky on Jan. 27. The Paducah Sun via AP

Murray State is taking the nation’s longest winning streak — 13 games — into the NCAA Tournament.

It’s first test: West Virginia.

The Racers, who were the Ohio Valley Conference’s regular-season and conference tournament champions, earned a No. 12 seed from the NCAA committee and were placed in the East Region. Murray’s game against the Mountaineers (24-10) is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday in San Diego.

Murray (26-5, 16-2 OVC) is led Jonathan Stark, the OVC’s Player of the Year. He led the league in scoring for the second straight season at 21.7 points per game and was fifth in assists with 4.0. Overall, the 6-foot senior guard from Munford, Tenn., is averaging 21.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.

Stark scored a game-high 24 points and was named tournament MVP after Murray’s OVC championship game victory against Belmont on March 3.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Stark told the Associated Press afterward. “We’ve been working since we came here for summer school knowing all those hours would pay off. It finally paid off for us.”

“Just really proud of our guys,” Coach Mark McMahon told the AP. “They’ve been awesome every single day, all year long. Really sold out to the team, committed to each other and played for each other all year and stepped up with a big-time effort tonight. Defense was terrific. Best job we did all season long from a communication standpoint.”

Terrell Miller, a 6-8 senior forward from Jacksonville, Fla., joined Stark as a first-team All-OVC selection. Miller averages 14.7 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds.

West Virginia, the Big 12 Conference Tournament’s runner-up, is 29-28 in the NCAA Tournament play, including an 11-7 record under Coach Bob Huggins.

“We played in San Diego in 2001 or something, and I thought it was a great place to play,” Huggins said. “It’s a great venue. We’re going to go and worry about playing and not the seed.”

Huggins said the Mountaineers have a good idea what they’re facing in Stark.

“Beetle (former Holmes star James Bolden) played with their point guard when they went to Europe this summer,” Huggins said. “Obviously, he’s pretty good. He’s getting 21.5 a game.”

▪  It is the 16th NCAA Tournament appearance for Murray State. The Racers have won their opening game in the last two trips (2010 vs. Vanderbilt; 2012 vs. Colorado State).

Dennis Varney: 859-231-3514, @ExCats

Friday

Murray State vs. West Virginia

4 p.m. Friday in San Diego (TNT)

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