Eastern hosts Morant, Murray State in big OVC match Thursday at home


File Photo

Eastern forward Braxton Shaw goes up for a dunk in Eastern’s 90-37 win over Fontbonne on Dec. 4. The Panthers host Murray State on Thursday and Austin Peay on Saturday.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

The Eastern men’s basketball team has what is more-than-likely its toughest weekend schedule ahead of them, facing Murray State Thursday and Austin Peay Saturday.

Murray State alone will be the toughest challenge Eastern has faced yet this season and will be a game that shows how real Murray State is, and how real Eastern can be, win or lose.

Before Thursday’s game, the toughest challenge Eastern had conference-wise, was a road game against Jacksonville State last Thursday.

On the one hand, Eastern has a bit of an advantage before the tip off, since Eastern gets to host the Racers.

On the other hand, Murray State is 4-0 in conference play right now. 

The Racers also have possibly the best player in the OVC leading their charge into every game, a player who is projected by some to be a top-10 or even top-5 pick in this year’s NBA draft: Ja Morant.

The sophomore has come a long way from what was a pretty good freshman season last year. Last season, he averaged 12.7 points per game and even had a triple-double, coming against none other than Eastern.

This season, he is averaging 23.1 points per game, good for 13th in the nation, one spot behind Duke standout freshman RJ Barrett.

He also leads the nation in assists per game, with 10.7, 2.5 above the second-place player.

Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour knows what his team is up against Thursday.

“You got to guard all of them, but he is for sure the one who gets them going,” Spoonhour said. “He’s just an unbelievable player. If you let them get points on a broken floor, in transition, it’s going to be a long night. So you got to try to make them play against your defense as much as you can.”

In the OVC, Murray State has the third-highest scoring average at 84.2 points per game. 

The Racers also have the best scoring defense in the conference, only allowing opponents to score 65.9 points per game.

The Racers have a fast-paced offense that can move the ball quickly. 

Perhaps one of the best telling signs about the skill level of the Racers is the fact that they only lost to Auburn by five points on the Tigers’ home court, and at the time, Auburn was ranked seventh in the country.

Morant is not the only Racer to worry about, either. 

Shaq Buchanan is a returning guard who was a key part of the Racers’ OVC championship run. 

He is second on the team, averaging 13.6 points per game, and he leads the OVC with 2.4 steals per game. 

Tevin Brown is a true freshman averaging 13.4 points per game and shooting 43.3 percent from three-point range, good for second-best in the conference behind Eastern’s Kashawn Charles.

And on the inside, Darnell Cowart is an agile defender and scorer for the Racers, averaging 8.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Eastern’s game against Murray State is set to tip off at 7 p.m.

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]