Williams vs ETSU

Murray State forward KJ Williams (0) tries to control the ball Monday afternoon against the East Tennessee State defense, including guard David Sloan (4), during the teams' game in the Naples Invitational in Naples, Florida. ETSU was able to handle a cold-shooting Racer squad by a 66-58 final score.

NAPLES, Fla. — In a season where Murray State’s men’s basketball team has sought to prove it is tougher than it was a year ago, the Racers had that idea challenged Monday afternoon.

They ran into an East Tennessee State team that seemed to thrive on it. And, at least in this game, the Racers seemed to come up in short.

Pushed around by a very physical Buccaneers squad, the Racers could not find their shooting touch as they shot a miserable 6% on 3-pointers and only 11-of-23 at the foul line on their way to a disappointing 66-58 loss in the first round of the highly-competitive Naples Invitational.

“Really disappointing,” said Racers Head Coach Matt McMahon was he opened his postgame comments on Froggy 103.7 in an interview with play-by-play man Neal Bradley.

“They were tougher than we were at every position on the court ... 1 to 5 and including the bench. They got after us defensively and we really struggled on some open looks from three (when the Racers were able to get those looks). Then, I was really surprised at the free-throw shooting. In a Division 1 basketball game, 7-of-18 (in the second half) is really hard to fathom, but credit ETSU. They deserved to win because they were the harder playing and tougher playing team.”

Both teams had trouble with their shots in the early going, combining to miss their first seven attempts combined. Then, things started to get better as the first half continued with the Bucs taking as much as a seven-point lead before settling for a 32-29 halftime advantage.

It was in the 10 minutes of the second half that things really began going sour for Murray State as the Bucs suddenly were hot from the field as the Racers continued to struggle. Twice, the lead grew to 16 points on a 3-pointer from guard Mohab Yasser, then a basket from guard David Sloan as the Bucs opened the second half by outscoring the Racers by a 19-6 margin.

However, in spite of its horrible shooting woes (Murray State ended the game 23-of-54 overall from the field (42.2%), the Racers still, somehow, made this interesting in the late stages. 

Murray State displayed guts in putting together a surge that  had the Racers within only 59-55 on a basket from forward KJ Williams with less than three minutes left. 

That was answered by a tough  jumper from guard Jordan King  to send the lead back to six. Williams scored again, though, to trim the lead back to 61-57 as McMahon called his final timeout of the game with 1:38 left. 

However, Sloan came out of the timeout and did what Murray State could not, hit a huge trey, that pushed the lead back to seven, the giving the Bucs the momentum they needed to finally put Murray State away.

“I thought their guards really sized our guards up and hit some really tough shots in our face,”said McMahon, who returned to the free-throw woes of his team which came against a team he said he knew was going to give his team chances to score at the charity stripe because that had been ETSU’s reputation so far this season.

“We were having such a hard time making those open threes that we tried to make an adjustment on offense and start putting our head down and try to get to the rim for those free-throw opportunities. We were just poor today.”

Except for the shooting, Monday’s game was pretty even when it came to statistics, with the Racers outrebounding the Bucs, something that was seen as a key to success coming into the game. Murray State did have 17 turnovers, yet ETSU only had a two-point edge in points-off turnovers. 

However, McMahon said it was the timing of the turnovers that proved so costly. 

“I thought their ability to get those ‘pick-six’ turnovers (a football term for easy scores for the defense on pass interceptions), where they got a couple of steals that led to layups was big,” he said. “Then, twice, and this is poor coaching on my part and the mark of an undisciplined team, we missed open threes in the corner and they got runout layups in transition.

ETSU was led in scoring Monday by guard Ledarrius Brewer’s 17 points but perhaps as damaging were the 13 bench points by forward Charlie Weber, which included a 3-pointer and several contested jumpers. Sloan had 11.

Williams did what he could for the Racers, ending with a game-high 18 points. Eight those came in the final rush for the Racers. Guard Tevin Brown had 12 but he was 0-of-5 on his 3-point attempts, for which he is most known. 

ETSU was not great from behind the arc, but its 7-for-22 effort was much more successful than that of Murray State.

The Racers will play this afternoon in their second game of  the event and will face either Missouri State or Long Beach State in a game that will tip at 1:30 p.m. at the Community School of Naples Gymnasium. 

Recommended for you