McMullen defense

Murray State forward Nick McMullen (32) reaches for the ball in an effort to knock it away from Campbellsvile's Ryan Moss during the Racers' win Monday night at the CFSB Center in Murray. That win moved Murray State to 6-1 on the season, setting the stage for a highly-anticipated matchup Saturday night with former Ohio Valley Conference member Middle Tennessee in Murray.

MURRAY —When a basketball coach is discussing a future opponent almost two weeks ahead of that game, it is obvious that he is feeling an extra bit of enthusiasm.

That has been the case with Murray State Head Men’s Coach Matt McMahon. Even before his team headed to Naples, Florida during Thanksgiving week to participate in a high-caliber mid-majors event, he was discussing what lay ahead for the Racers upon their return. He already was hyping Middle Tennessee.

Now, that game is less than 48 hours from tip-off, and the hype appears justified. The teams both are carrying one-loss records and are playing well, setting the stage for what may be the most anticipated contest at CFSB Center in a while. Tip-off is set for 7 Saturday night.

“We have a great opportunity. This is a former longtime rival in MTSU (who spent many years in the Ohio Valley Conference, waging war with the Racers), and MTSU is terrific this year. They’re 6-1 and a really talented team,” McMahon said Monday night after his team easily dispatched Campbellsville at The Bank. 

“This is our last game before final exams, so I’m looking forward to getting out on the campus this week (and encourage students to attend).”

Getting the biggest crowd since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March 2020 should not be a problem as this game should be a mid-major attraction nationally. MTSU is 7-1 after beating OVC representative UT Martin, 73-61, Wednesday in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

MTSU, though, has beaten some other teams that it perhaps was not supposed to be defeat, including a solid Winthrop team that defeated PAC-12 representative Washington. The Blue Raiders’ only loss was to a Stephen F. Austin club that has made a lot of noise in recent years, including winning an NCAA Tournament game in 2016 and shocking Duke on its home court in 2019 when it was ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Last year, the Blue Raiders easily handled a Murray State team that never really found its rhythm all season, but McMahon said this year’s team is even better than the MTSU team that drubbed the Racers by 17 points in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

“They’re really good. They’re long and athletic and I’ve been able to watch several of their games this year and you can see that they have good energy on their bench. That tells you that they’ve got a good basketball culture in there and I’ve been really impressed with their team,” McMahon said. 

The Blue Raiders are led in scoring and rebounds by 6-5 guard Eli Lawrence (12.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg), while 6-2 guard Josh Jefferson is averaging 10.5 points a contest. Those are their only two players scoring in double digits, a testament to the depth of this team.

Behind Lawrence and Jefferson are three players averaging at least eight points a game — 6-1 guard Donovan Sims (9.2), 6-7 forward Tyler Millin (8.2) and 6-3 guard Camryn Weston (8.1). MTSU also has 11 of its players averaging at least 11 minutes of playing time per game.

 The Blue Raiders are also proving to be stingy defensively, holding opponents to an average of 60.4 points a game. 

Murray State also appears to be a very deep team this year with 10 players in its rotation so far and an 11th that could be be utilized soon in 6-8 sophomore forward Elijah Farr, who will also bring bulk to the floor at 240 pounds.

Murray State helped its resume at the Naples Invitational by defeating Long Beach State (a team that stayed competitive for a while with No. 5 UCLA) and Colonial Athletic Conference favorite James Madison after falling to Southern Conference favorite East Tennessee State.

Saturday’s game can be heard on Froggy 103.7 FM.