Racers Discover Toughness vs. TSU
Racer fans filed into the CFSB Center last Saturday morning with equal parts anticipation and skepticism. With a talented and experienced Tennessee State team rolling into The Bank, fans knew the Racers would have to dig down and find something extra to beat what is considered to be the OVC’s best team.
“What do you think?” asked one Racer fan.
“TSU is really good,” answered another fan. “We’ll have to play our best game of the year that’s for sure.”
Well, TSU was good and the Racers played their best game of the year. Forget about the boxscore or strategy, Racer fans who have watched MSU teams over the years knew what made the difference on New Year’s Eve: toughness.
For the first time this season the Racers played with an edge, an attitude that is required to compete at the highest level. In the first 14 games the Racers played hard, but that’s not much of a standard. “Playing hard” is a notch above “not loafing.”
Average teams play hard, great teams leave it on the floor. Similarly, average players play defense, great players try to shut their opponent down. Average players try to get a rebound, great players attack the glass. Average players drive to the basket, great players attack the rim.
Every Racer great from the past 30 years played with that edge, a competitive streak that made him feared – and hated – in the OVC. Did Marcus Brown, Isaac Spencer and Aubrey Reese play with an edge? You bet. Even laid-back, quiet stars such as Jeff Martin, Popeye Jones, Cuthbert Victor and Isaiah Canaan were cold-blooded competitors. And, just because he had a wiry frame and baby face, Cameron Payne attacked his opponents every time out.
Across the board last Saturday, Racer players were attacking.
They’ll need that type of attitude for the next two weeks because they face a daunting challenge.
Murray State cranks up the bus and heads out for four-straight OVC road games, beginning with a southern swing to Jacksonville State on Thursday and Tennessee Tech on Saturday. Ordinarily this might be a fairly easy two-game sweep, but not this year. First, the Racers have yet to notch a win on the road this season so that’s one hurdle. Second, particularly in the case of Jacksonville State, the opponents are formidable.
If Jacksonville State has been the Alabama of OVC football since their entrance into the league a decade ago, they’ve also been the Alabama of basketball as well. As in disinterested in hoops. But not this year.
Former Western Kentucky head coach Ray Harper has taken over the Gamecocks program and has turned them into a winner in his first season.
At 8-7, Jax State has a win over Tulsa and some very close losses to highly regarded opponents. Most surprising, they’re 2-0 in the OVC with wins at UT-Martin and Eastern Illinois. Through two games, they are a contender in the OVC East along with Belmont and TSU.
Murray State will be tested by the Gamecocks, but the true test will be following an inspired effort at home against TSU with a replica on Thursday. Was the New Year’s Eve toughness and aggressiveness a one-off performance for TV? Or, have the Racers found the key that will spark a successful, win-filled run and a possible OVC title?
Win or lose on Thursday or Saturday, we’ll know a lot about these Racers by their play. Do they “play hard” or do they “attack?”
Once again, Racer fans are filled with anticipation.