Basketball prepares for the “madness”


Murray State players huddle around to watch a Senior Night video on the jumbotron following their victory over Valparaiso on Sunday, Feb. 26. Photo by Rebeca Mertins Chiodini/The News.

Jakob Milani, Sports Editor

A win on senior night has set the path to madness for the Murray State men’s basketball team. In a new conference, with a new championship on the line, the Racers are still looking to make it to the big dance.

The Racers defeated the Valparaiso Beacons on Sunday, Feb. 26, by a score of 77-76 in overtime, with fourth year junior forward DJ Burns leading the way for the Racers with 21 points and eight rebounds. The win locked in the Racers as the seventh seed for the MVC Tournament.

Both Burns and senior guard Rob Thomas were honored for senior night before the game. Thomas scored the first points of the game in his first career start for the Racers, making a 3-pointer from the right wing.

The team wore warmups that read “In Rod We Trust” before the game to recognize Thomas, a walk-on for the Racers since his freshman year and a graduate of Paducah Tilghman High School. 

Thomas, a fan favorite at all of Murray State’s home games, said his start was one of the best moments he’s experienced at Murray State.

“The warmups were a surprise to me,” Thomas said. “It speaks to the love that Murray has as a community and that we try to express as a team. They love me unconditionally, and I love them back. This was huge for me, especially to end my career here, to win this game. It was huge. I’m just very grateful for this opportunity.”

It was the second time the Racers had played the Beacons this season, with both games ending as overtime wins for Murray State.

Burns spoke after the game about the win and how special it was to him. He said there was no other way he would have wanted to leave Murray State.

“I mean, what other way would you like to go out?” Burns said. “A thriller in your home with people that you love. We won the game. It was amazing.”

Why is the recent win significant? The Racers play against Valparaiso in the first round of Arch Madness. Murray State is looking to make its second straight March Madness appearance after winning the OVC Championship last season.

While the Racers hold both wins over the Beacon’s this season, they had to get it done in extra time, and despite the Beacons being the 10th seed, they have played better than their record shows. 

Burns gave a simple answer on how the team will prepare for the game against Valparaiso.

“Prepare better,” Burns said. “More details. That’s the bottom line.”

The Beacons finished the regular season with a 5-15 record, losing eight of their last 10 games. But four of those losses came in overtime, and only two of their other losses were by 10 or more points.

In their first meeting against the Beacons, the Racers allowed senior forward Ben Krikke to score 31 points. In the second meeting, however, Krikke scored 24 points and fouled out in overtime. 

The other player to watch has been fifth year guard Kobe King, who broke the record for most games with double-digit points in MVC history, scoring 10 or more in every single game in the regular season. He had 18 points and four fouls against the Racers in their second meeting.

Head Coach Steve Prohm spoke about the upcoming tournament and how close the games can be. He said most games in the league feel like a 50/50 chance going in.

“In this league, there’s a lot of parody,” Prohm said. “You have to go 15-5 to have a chance at winning this league. We’ve had a lot of success against the top teams in the league, but you can flip a coin at times, and that determines the winner. So, we hit Valpo first, but it’s anyone’s game.”

The seventh-seeded Racers take on the 10th-seeded Beacons at 6 p.m. in the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Thursday, March 2.

If the Racers pull out the win, they will be fortunate to take on the second-seeded Drake Bulldogs.

Drake fell to the second seed after losing to Bradley in the final regular season game, which gave Bradley the first seed in the tournament and the title of Regular Season Champions in the MVC.

The Bulldogs have been led by sophomore guard Tucker DeVries this season. He averages 18.9 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game and is second on the team in assists and steals. He has all of that while shooting 45% from the field.

In his first game against the Racers, DeVries had just 11 points in 33 minutes of play,  grabbing nine rebounds. In his second game, however, he had 32 points and six rebounds, shooting 10-16 from the field and 6-10 from 3-point range.

His teammate, graduate forward Roman Penn, has also made some noise this season, averaging 12.5 points per game and dishing out the most assists on the team with 158. 

Both DeVries and Penn were voted to the All MVC Preseason First Team, with DeVries named Preseason MVC Player of the Year.

If the Racers defeat the Beacons, they will play the Bulldogs at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 3.

The race to March Madness is on, and it is win or go home in every game. A new team, a new conference and a new chance for the Racers may help them be the Cinderella to this year’s big dance.


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