Murray State Racers (6-1) at Evansville Purple Aces (5-3)
Game Time: 1:05 p.m. Saturday
Location: Ford Center
Broadcast: 91.5 WUEV, ESPN3.com
Live Coverage: Follow on Twitter (@ECP_Lintner)
Spread: UE opened -1.5 at OddsShark.
UE’s probable starters: Troy Taylor, Ned Cox, Colt Ryan, Lewis Jones, Egidijus Mockevicius
Murray State’s probable starters: Isaiah Canaan, Dexter Fields, Stacy Wilson, Ed Daniel, Brandon Garrett
Last Meeting: Murray State won 72-47 in 2011.
Series History: The Racers have a 22-10 lead all-time and have won the last four games in a series that dates back to 1943.
Dec. 7: UE’s Taylor has a job to do: contain Murray State’s Canaan
Dec. 6: ‘Coachable’ Aces get back to work in preparation for Murray State
Dec. 6: Murray’s Jackson indicted for assault charge
Dec. 5: Ryan, Balentine spark Aces in record-setting win over Miami (Ohio)
Dec. 4: Daniel notches fifth-straight double- double in Racers’ win
Nov. 29: Murray’s Mushatt returns to practice from injury
Nov. 29: Racers’ Canaan, Daniel among national leaders after impressive games
—Much thanks to a team-leading 11.8 points per game from freshman D.J. Balentine, UE’s bench has out-scored opponents’ reserves 112-42 this season. Balentine has averaged 20.5 points per game in the Aces’ last two games, and his 2.5 3-pointers per game ranks fourth among Missouri Valley Conference schools.
—Senior Ned Cox has been the most consistent offensive threat so far for UE, reaching double figures in six of the Aces’ eight games. He’s also hitting from long range. After a 2 for 9 start on 3-pointers, Cox has connected on 11 of his last 24 attempts.
—Senior Troy Taylor leads the Aces in rebounds (5.6 per game), assists with 31 and steals with 13.
—Despite a huge deficit on the boards in their loss to Colorado State, the Aces are out-rebounding opponents by 5.5 a game over their last five contests, most recently claiming a 38-13 edge over Miami (Ohio).
—UE’s 25-plus point win was the second at home in a row. The last time the Aces won back-to-back by that margin was the 2009-2010 season against Oakland City and SIU-Edwardsville. They hadn’t done it against Division I opponents since the 1999-2000 season under former coach Jim Crews.
—Murray State enters its first game in Evansville since 2002 having won 14 straight road games, the most in the program’s 88-year history. The Racers haven’t lost a true road game since March 15, 2011, against Missouri State in the NIT. Their only loss this season came against a then-ranked Colorado team on a neutral floor at the Charleston Classic.
—While UE is coming off a season-best 14 of 18 3-point shooting performance, Murray State is among best in the nation in defending beyond the arc. The Racers are 18th in the nation at 26 percent 3-point defense.
—The Racers are known best for Associated Press preseason all-American Isaiah Canaan (21.4 points per game), but Murray State senior forward Ed Daniel has recorded five straight double-doubles and is averaging 18.6 points and 13.6 rebounds per game during the streak.
—This, the 33rd meeting between UE and Murray State, is a return game from the BracketBusters Challenge contest the Aces lost in February of 2011 and not part of a series that’s currently planned to continue beyond this season.
—Under second-year coach Steve Prohm, a former Murray State assistant, the Racers are 29-0 when they hold opponents to 45 percent shooting and 30-2 when they make more 3-pointers than opponents.
UE coach Marty Simmons on containing Murray State guard Isaiah Canaan: “There’s noting easy about that. When you get voted a first-team preseason all-American, that’s five guys – two guards – and he’s one of the two. That’s pretty impressive. We’re just going to have to play hard, move our feet and make it as difficult as possible for him to get good looks. That’s easier said than done. He’s got tremendous range. He’s got great hesitation. He shoots off the dribble, has a good mid-range game, shoots floaters, and he makes everyone around him better.”
Simmons on deciding when the Aces should play a zone, which they’ve used sparingly the last two games: “It just depends. We’ve played a lot of games where we never play any zone. It could be foul trouble. It could be just to change things up or something one of the assistants saw in the scouting report that we feel like gives us a chance to match up better. There’s no one thing. We’ve just got to kind of evaluate it from game to game.”
Murray State coach Steve Prohm scouts UE: “They’re tough to prepare for. Coach Simmons does a great job with their halfcourt offense and their motion. They have so many different types of screens — back screens, flare screens, pin downs, staggers — that your guys have to be totally locked in and totally sold out to defending for 40 minutes and defending the whole shot clock. They’ve got three really good perimeter players in (Colt) Ryan, (D.J.) Balentine and (Ned) Cox, so we’ve got to do a good job on them, and they’ve got some other guys who can hurt you. It will be a great test for us.”
Prohm comparing this year’s team to his last, which started 23-0 and made the NCAA tournament: “We’re trying to play the same. We lost three very good players — three really good seniors (Donte Poole, Ivan Asa and Jewaun Long) — and then we lost two starters from this team with the Zay Jackson situation and Latreze Mushatt tearing his Achilles. So this team’s totally different. We’ve got two constants with Isaiah Canaan and Ed Daniel who have been here for four years. Everybody else was unproven, so I’m proud of where our guys are right now. But our goals don’t change, and they’re still the same — to win the Ohio Valley Conference, have a great non-conference season and hopefully get into postseason play.”
UE senior Troy Taylor on guarding Canaan: “That will be my role most likely more than anybody else. Just like any game, I’m assigned to the point guard. I’ve just got to do a real good job of making him take tough shots…He’s an aggressive player. He’s the type of player who can hit a lot of tough shots. Me, as a guard for the University of Evansville, I have to make things tough on him. I have to contest every shot. You can’t give a guy like that any open looks, because he’ll knock them down.”
Canaan on playing high-profile non-conference foes: “We’ve got to win these games, because conference is right around the corner. Our conference is moving up every year, so just having a tough non-conference schedule gets you prepared for that.”
Outlook: This is one of the four games that stick out on UE’s non-conference schedule along with Notre Dame, Colorado State and Butler. For the Aces to have the type of season they think is possible, it’s an important one to win now that two of those major opponents have already defeated UE.