Big turnaround: Racers forging a post presence

Story by Keith Jaco

Staff writer

The Murray State men’s basketball team has gone through its share of turnover since last season’s NCAA Tournament appearance.

Stellar guard play from players like Jonathan Stark and Ja Morant as well as consistent games from Terrell Miller Jr. helped propel the Racers to a 26-6 record. Once tournament time rolled around, the underlying problem of the Racer basketball team was exposed.

Murray State’s big men failed to answer the call and contributed very little in the Racers’ NCAA Tournament loss to West Virginia University. Murray State’s bigs took zero shots from the field and combined for a drastically low 2 points in the entire contest.

Head Coach Matt McMahon will need consistency and production inside the paint if his team hopes to be playing at the Ford Center come March.

With the likes of Stark and Miller missing from this year’s roster, McMahon and staff will look to develop and work with returning players, as well as the new Racer talent.

Along with newcomers, a pair of senior forwards will be in the limelight for Murray State this season following former starter Jalen Dupree’s decision to transfer after the 2017-18 season.

Senior forwards Brion Sanchious and Anthony Smith are expected to share playing time for the Racers at the forward and center positions. Freshman forward K.J. Williams, a high school stand-out from Mississippi, and junior forward Darnell Cowart, a transfer student from Cowley County Community College, will each scrap for playing time for the Racers.

Now that his senior year is here, Sanchious is ready to showcase his offseason work and give back to the best fans in the OVC.

“I’m excited for my senior year,” Sanchious said. “I want to show the fans and all the families who supported me how much I appreciate them for all four years that I’ve been here. We’re going to go out with a bang.”

If there was one concern regarding how Murray State would match up with Belmont, Austin Peay and even bigger schools last season, it was its bigs. Dupree flashed signs of encouraging play, but struggled with disciplinary issues and never fully committed to being a team player for the Racers. DuPree averaged 5.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.8 blocks a game on the season.

Sanchious will look to up his production this season, following a 2017-18 campaign in which he evenly split playing time with DuPree and averaged 2.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.3 blocks per game. Smith will likely see an increase in playing time, looking to capitalize on this playing time by bolstering his resume of 3.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 0.5 blocks from a season ago.

While Sanchious and Smith are looking to better their game with increased playing time, Smith said he’s focused on mentoring and working with the newcomers.

“We’re going to try and be leaders for these new guys,” Smith said. “We’ve been in this game for a good while now so we’re just going to teach and lead by example.”

Competition heats up for Murray State early in the season as the Racers take to the road for a pair of SEC games with Auburn University and the University of Alabama.

Sanchious, Smith and Williams will have their hands full with SEC big men who range in size from 6’9” to 6’11”. Senior forward Donta Hall of Alabama will be a nice test for the Racers’ bigs early in the season. Hall averaged 10.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks last season.

Sanchious is excited for the experience that comes with playing high-caliber power-five teams.

“Games like those show us what type of teams we could play in the NCAA Tournament,” Sanchious said. “We’ll see what it takes to win, learn that all the little things matter and you have to pay attention in the huddle because the smallest things can make you lose.”

As a rematch with Auburn looms in the near future, Smith said the Racers are ready this time around.

“This year we have a great chance,” Smith said. “We’re deep at the big positions and have a lot of good players with good basketball IQ’s. With that, I think we’ll have a good chance when we go up against them.”


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