From Saturday’s Murray State/St. Mary’s game, Isaiah Canaan alleys, Brandon Garrett oops. Boom goes the dynamite.
MURRAY, Ky. — There’s plenty one could devour when looking at no. 16 Murray State’s 65-51 victory over no. 21 St. Mary’s. I mean, a lot. And afterward, the coaches, they agreed.
But one thing that Gaels coach Randy Bennett did talk about had nothing to do with the game. Well, one name, rather. That was guard Stephen Holt, who sat out with a knee injury suffered in their home loss to Loyola Marymount on Wednesday.
Normally, that wouldn’t be an excuse in a game like this. And if you ask Bennett, it still wasn’t. But the West Coast Conference’s leader in steals not being on the court to guard arguably the Ohio Valley Conference’s soon-to-be Player of the Year, Isaiah Canaan, hurt. Bad. Just look at Canaan’s stat line: 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 5-of-8 from 3-point range and only three turnovers.
“It was a big factor,” Bennett said. “You could argue he’s our best player for what he does defensively. We are in a tough spot without him. We didn’t have a lot of quickness out there and were pretty much on our heels.”
It doesn’t help that Holt was St. Mary’s third-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game, on 50-percent shooting on the season (87-for-174). Those numbers could’ve helped in a game that the Gaels couldn’t get a shot to drop from beyond the arch (2-of-14), much less overall (20-of-53, 37.7-percent).
Instead, St. Mary’s was forced to suffer through a 1-for-10 shooting night from guard Jorden Page — who finished with three points — and an overall 12-for-37 shooting night from the healthy starters.
In his post-game press conference, Bennett used Holt’s name too many times for a player who didn’t factor in to the contest. He understands his player’s value. One other thing Bennett knows? That Holt probably won’t play in the Gaels’ next game against Portland on Thursday.
This is definitely not the St. Mary’s team that had folks drooling just last month. Point guard Matthew Dellavadova limped his way to a team-high 17 points, 0-for-4 from three. Racers forward Ed Daniel, all 6-7 of him (eight), out-rebounded St. Mary’s starting front line of Clint Steindl, Rob Jones (10.4 board per game) and Kyle Rowley by himself (seven). They’ve lost three of their last four games and along with the L’s have also lost any hope of an at-large berth, meaning they’ll have to survive possible dates with Gonzaga and BYU in next month’s WCC Tournament to punch a ticket to the Big Dance for the fourth time under Bennett.
“It’s not easy to figure out what the problem is,” Bennett said.
This isn’t the same team we’re used too. And while Stephen Holt may not be the whole solution, tonight, in a game that the Gaels had to win to keep up their at-large hopes, his absence spoke volumes about how far this team has slid in a short amount of time.
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MURRAY, Ky — Murray State made a statement in their 65-51 victory over St. Mary’s on Saturday . Meanwhile, the Gaels missed out on a big chance to impress the NCAA Tournament bracket committee.
The Racers didn’t let go of their lead once, as Isaiah Canaan went off for 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 5-of-8 from three. With the game still well within reach for the Gaels eight minutes into the second half, Canaan scored all eight points in an 8-2 run for the Racers, extending their lead to 16 points. He had two 3-pointers and layup in the stretch.
“He can shoot it so well,” St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said following the game. “He reminds me of (Weber State’s) Damian Lillard. His ability to shoot makes him exceptional.”
Canaan was the spark-plug, but it was Donte Poole who provided the big lift to begin the game. He scored all of his 11 points in the first half. Murray’s starting guards (Canaan, Poole and Jewuan Long) combined to shoot 16-of-24 in the game.
“When you play a team like Murray who is a very good team, they will expose you,” Bennett said. “Their guards are really good. Their bigs are better than you’d think. With those type of teams, if you don’t do anything right you’ll get exposed.”
St. Mary’s was forced to play without top defender and third-leading scorer Stephen Holt due to an injury he sustained in Wednesday’s loss against Loyola Marymount. To make matters worse, Matthew Dellavedova played nowhere near 100 percent after a recent ankle injury. Dellavedova still managed 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting, adding in six assists.
“He’s a stud — he essentially played on one leg,” Bennett said. “He’s an unbelievable competitor. I didn’t want him to play, but he wanted to play. But he was dragging his leg up there, he can’t accelerate. I hope he didn’t set himself back at all. We need him too much down the stretch.”
With Canaan and Poole nearly lights out shooting threes for the Racers, it wasn’t quite the same for the Gaels, who shot 2-of-14 from deep.
Murray got the big win they so desperately needed and proved they were worthy of not only an NCAA Tournament bid, but a top-15 ranking as well.
“Anyone who is 26-1 at this time is really good,” Bennett said. “There are good teams in their conference, and they have played on the road at some tough places.”
St. Mary’s will likely fall out of the top-25 in the rankings, after losing three-of-four games. The losing streak will also mean they will probably need to win the West Coast Conference Tournament next month to receive a bid in the NCAA Tournament. Bennett said the tough late-season schedule and the recent injuries should be put into perspective.
“You could have predicted we’d lose the (games at Gonzaga and Murray),” he said. “We got beat up a little. Losing will surface. We just have to get back to work and identify what the problems are and what we can control.”
Murray has two games left in the year, at Tennessee Tech and Tennsssee State, who handed the Racers their first loss of the year. St. Mary’s faces Portland and San Fransicso to close out the year.
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Just because they each had a couple hiccups within the last week doesn’t mean tomorrow’s Murray State-St. Mary’s game won’t be the biggest game of BracketBuster Saturday. In fact, the game might be bigger now.
The Racers lost last week on their home court to Tennessee State, 76-68, to end their shot at a perfect record. Meanwhile, the Gaels dropped two games last week in double figures — one against their rival Gonzaga and another to Loyola Marymount. Suddenly, this is a must-win game for both teams.
After the St. Mary’s game, Murray’s last two games of the year are against Tennessee State on the road, the fourth place team in the Ohio Valley, and a rematch AT Tennessee State. A loss to one of those teams could all of a sudden put the Racers on the bubble and in a position where they would have to win the OVC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
But a win against St. Mary’s would be huge for the Racers, and it would finally give them a marquee win and something to show the bracket committee besides a bunch of wins against lowly competition. The campus will be abuzz as well, with Dick Vitale (and myself for that matter) in attendance. Add in the fact that it’s Senior Night, and the Racers have a lot to play for.
But so do the Gaels. You can’t drop two out of three games by double-digits in the West Coast Conference and have people not at least be a little concerned. This will be their last big chance before their conference tournament. A win against the Racers, and St. Mary’s should be in.
I expect a good, high scoring-game tomorrow night in Murray. The Racers will need to get out to a good start in this one — they have had a tendency to be forced to come back in ball games. If they let the Gaels get out to an 8-10 point lead, they will have a tougher time coming back than they would against a team in the OVC.
It’s not often you have a “win-and-you’re in” game in non-conference play, but that is certainly the case in this one. It’s also not often these two squads, especially Murray, get national exposure — so they will need to make the most of it.
All week I’ve wanted to pick St. Mary’s to win, but this is the Racers’ biggest regular-reason game in years, and it will be played in front of a loud, sold-out home crowd. Racers win this tight affair 74-69.
And stay glued here tomorrow, as me and David Harten will be at the CFSB Center to provide extensive coverage of this big game.