MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Murray State owns a 13-game winning streak, and by the time it meets West Virginia in the NCAA tournament, it will be on a 13-day break between games.
The 12th-seeded Racers (26-5), champions of the Ohio Valley Conference, opened as 9-point underdogs against West Virginia (24-10) in advance of Friday afternoon’s game at Veijas Arena in San Diego.
“We’re blessed with really good players. We’ve got a special group,” said Murray State coach Matt McMahon, who was promoted to the post in June 2015 when Steve Prohm left for Iowa State. He owns a three-year record of 59-36 at a program that previously launched the careers of Billy Kennedy and Mick Cronin.
Now a month shy of his 40th birthday, McMahon was an assistant on Murray State’s last NCAA tournament team in 2012. That squad reached the second round as a No. 6 seed.
Murray State’s hopes of advancing this time around hinge on senior guard Jonathan Stark, the OVC player of the year who averages 21.8 points and 3.9 assists while shooting 41 percent from 3.
“He’s so efficient offensively, can score in a variety of ways,” McMahon told CBS. “He’s a relentless worker and really delivered this year.”
No. 12 seeds are 47-85 against No. 5 seeds since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Murray State profile
NCAA tournament all-time: 3-15
Notable games: Lost 81-77 to Auburn on a neutral court in December. … Only other top-50 RPI opponent was a 72-67 home loss vs. Middle Tennessee in the season opener. … Went 2-3 vs. the RPI top 100 with wins over Wright State and Belmont.
Stats of interest: Ranks 25th nationally in shooting percentage (48.5), eighth in 3-point defense (30 percent), eighth in scoring margin (plus-13.4), 28thin rebound margin (plus-5.7).
Other players to watch: Senior forward Terrell Miller (14.7 points, 8.3 rebounds) is the main interior player in a rotation that features no one taller than 6-8. … Freshman guard Temetrius Morant (12.6 points, 6.6 assists) might be the Racers’ next star. His first OVC game resulted in a triple-double of 11 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists.