Arkansas St.-Murray St. Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 16, 2011
Murray State shows no signs of being overwhelmed by increasing expectations. The 24th-ranked Racers will try to match the second-best start in school history Saturday night when they host Arkansas State. After upsetting then-No. 21 Memphis on the road Sunday, Murray State joined the AP Top 25 for the first time since the final poll of 1997-98. The Racers (11-0) had little trouble in their first game as a ranked team in more than 13 years, defeating Lipscomb 89-65 on Thursday. Ed Daniel and Ivan Aska each scored 16 points while leading scorer Isaiah Canaan finished with 13 points, five assists and three steals. Canaan has reached double figures in every game this season and is averaging 19.2 points. Murray State shot 56.9 percent, including 60.0 percent (18 of 30) in the second half. "We're really not too much hyped about being ranked," Daniel said. "We like being ranked but we're not trying to focus on that the whole time. We're still going to be the same team that plays hard and goes hard and play everybody like they're ranked No. 1." The Racers already have Steve Prohm off to the best start for a first-year coach in program history, and they're approaching some other milestones. A victory Saturday night would match the 1936-37 and 1950-51 teams, which both began 12-0. Only the 1935-36 Murray State squad, which won its first 16 games, had a longer winning streak to start the season. Murray State has started gaining recognition thanks in part to its defense. It forced 23 turnovers Thursday while giving up 20 field goals - the third time this season an opponent has had more turnovers than field goals. The Racers are averaging 25.7 points off turnovers the last three games. "We really talk about our game plan and our game plan is real simple," Prohm said. "We're not complicated, they just play hard, pressure the ball and deny the wings, fly around and play with great effort." Murray State's ability to take advantage of opponents' mistakes doesn't bode well for Arkansas State, which is averaging 16.9 turnovers per game - among the 40 worst out of 339 Division I teams. The Red Wolves (5-5) have won four of five, including their last two. They defeated Seattle 87-74 on Wednesday, led by Malcoln Kirkland and Brandon Peterson, who each recorded a double-double. Kirkland finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds while Peterson had 17 points and 12 boards. "I thought it was a good 40-minute game for us; probably as good as we have played for a solid 40 minutes," coach John Brady told the Red Wolves' official athletics website. "We have gone from a team that can't score to a team that seems like it is able to score, so we have improved in that regard. I think we need to get a little better defensively." Arkansas State is averaging 80.0 points in the last three games, but is giving up 74.7. It was a far different story when the Red Wolves faced a ranked opponent last month. They shot 24.4 percent en route to a 54-27 loss at then-No. 7 Louisville on Nov. 22. Arkansas State and Murray State last met in 2008, when the Red Wolves won 55-47. The Racers won the previous year and hold a 21-9 lead in the all-time series - including 14-0 at home.
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