MURRAY — The challenge of playing Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro was already a tough one, but for Matt McMahon and his team, it got a little tougher earlier this week.
McMahon announced Wednesday that senior forward Anthony Smith would miss the remainder of the 2018-19 season due to season-ending ankle surgery, which not only takes a toll to the Racers’ frontcourt depth, it also hurts their efforts on the offensive glass.
Smith’s 3.2 offensive boards per game was tied for 50th in the nation, and his offensive rebound percentage was near the tops of the country as well.
Even with the loss of a leader both on and off the floor, McMahon said nothing is going to change with his current Racers.
“We’re just going to keep working hard, keep working to get better and have fun playing,” McMahon said. “Nothing’s going to change. Obviously we’ll miss everything Anthony Smith brings to our team. He’s a team captain, leader, just a relentless worker. He sets the tone every day in our practices for how you come to work. He’s invested an incredible amount of time during his two years here to prepare for his senior season. That’s what’s so devastating about it. He’s just lived in the gym. Worked extremely hard. Been a huge part of getting the culture of what Murray State basketball is supposed to be about. The toughness, the unselfishness. Putting the team before individual goals and so forth. And so obviously we’ll miss all of those things that he brings to the table, but everyone will have to step up, that’s one through 13. Everyone has to step forward and help fill the role that he has carried for us.”
As of now, McMahon hasn’t discussed a medical redshirt with Smith, but believes he has a good chance if he wants to take that route after his surgery.
“As I met with him last night, we’re just focused in on the surgery and getting him all situated there, getting his rehabilitation program started and getting him on his road to a full recovery,” McMahon said. “Once he gets through surgery and is feeling a little bit better we’ll sit and figure out the future from there. Obviously it would be a slam dunk that he would get the medical hardship having only played in five games. From my standpoint — what he means to our program. You look at his winning percentage during his time here as a player. All the different attributes he brings to the team. We would obviously want him to pursue that avenue and come back for a fifth season.”
Now without Smith, Murray state treads ahead to the Blue Raiders, a team that defeated the Racers in the CFSB Center just a year ago.
This MTSU team is much different than the 2017-18 edition.
Leading scorers Giddy Potts and Nick King, along with two other seniors are gone as well as then head coach Kermit Davis, who left to take a job at Ole Miss during the offseason.
Enter new head coach Nick McDevitt. McDevitt comes to MTSU after a long stint at UNC-Asheville, where he served as player, assistant, and head coach. Although the Blue Raiders are only 3-6 on the year, McMahon said their record is a bit deceiving.
“They have a really good team,” McMahon said. “I think you can be fooled by their record. They’ve lost four games in a row, but they’re top 10 in the county in strength of schedule. Teams like Virginia, Butler, Stanford; they’ve played a very competitive schedule. Very well coached. I’ve known coach McDevitt for a very long time. Did an unbelievable job at UNC-Asheville, will continue to do so at Middle.
“Antonio Green is their guy as far as scoring. He can shoot the three. Unlimited range. Was one of the leading three-point shooters in the country two years ago at Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Made well over 100 threes. He can really get it going at 20 a game, and then they have five guys who all average right at nine, so they have good balance in that regard.”
Murray State and Middle Tennessee State are set to tip off at 7 p.m. tonight in Murfreesboro, Tennessee