Is the time share on freshmen point guards DaQuan Smith and Chico Carter Jr. set to continue for Murray State?
Seems likely, after both made strong cases last week in two home conference wins against UT Martin and Southeast Missouri State.
Smith averaged 5.0 ppg, 3.0 apg, 3.5 rpg and 2.0 tpg in 43 minutes (21.5 mpg), consistently attacked and rebounded effectively against the Redhawks after shooting just 20% from the field against the Skyhawks. For the year, he's averaging some well-rounded numbers: 6.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 4.0 apg, with his shooting approaching 35% from the field and continuing to climb.
Carter, after missing nearly six weeks with a broken finger on his left hand, has reintroduced himself here at the start of OVC competition. In 37 total minutes against SEMO and UTM (18.5 mpg), he's averaged 3.5 ppg, 3.5 apg and 1.0 rpg, while committing just two turnovers. And after making his freebies last Saturday against the Redhawks, Carter Jr. is shooting 90.5% from the charity stripe -- an almost unheard of rate in college basketball.
"I think both are really good players," notes MSU fifth-year coach Matt McMahon. "I think both have different circumstances. DaQuan is coming off of a true redshirt year in which he was out due to the season-ending surgery. I think you see him getting more and more comfortable every time out. And then Chico is playing very well, especially at the offensive end of the floor, this early in the season, and then suffered the fracture in his hand and missed almost six full weeks. Working his way back in.
"I just think you'll continue to see both get better and better as the season goes on as they continue to get more and more experience, and get into different situations that they'll see as the season wears on ... as far as the different defenses they'll see and the talented point guards they'll go up against."
And the point guard "battle" isn't the only thing enticing about this Racer team. Its frontcourt play has been consistent, even without senior forward and preseason All-OVCer Darnell Cowart -- who McMahon said was still "out and injured" as of Monday afternoon.
Instead, it's been freshman Demond Robinson commanding starts, sophomore forward KJ Williams responding off the bench, senior forward Anthony Smith quietly averaging 10.6/7.6 on 58.2% from the floor, or junior forward Devin Gilmore never missing -- as he went 8-for-8 last week.
These continued developments have allowed McMahon the luxury of playing nine deep consistently -- perhaps something he never thought he'd do.
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"This team's been a lot of fun to coach," he added. "I think we're getting better. We still have a long, long ways to go, but I think we're making improvement because we've got an unselfish group that's hungry and wants to get better. They want to learn. They have good chemistry together on the floor. And I think we play hard. And I think, when you do that, you put yourself in a position to keep getting better as a team, and that's certainly our ultimate goal as the season moves on."
Murray State's next opponent -- Jacksonville State (7-8, 2-0 OVC), tonight at 7 in Jacksonville, Alabama's Pete Mathews Coliseum -- has all but erased its tepid 2-7 start to the season, with the Gamecocks winners in five of the last six games. The lone loss? Similar to MSU: a 75-53 lashing at then-No. 21 Tennessee in Knoxville.
In those five victories (Delaware State, Carver College, Evansville, at Morehead State, at Eastern Kentucky), the Gamecocks have managed an average plus-10.4 rebounding margin, have shot 53-for-121 from the arc (43.8%) and held opponents to a combined 30-for-106 (28.3%).
So they're defending the arc at a high rate, then corral those misses efficiently, and then go score from three. Got it.
Add on the fact that longtime JSU skipper Ray Harper has his top three scorers coming from the bench -- former Christian County star and sophomore guard De'Torrion Ware (11.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 39.7% shooting), senior forward Jacara Cross (11.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 64.7% shooting), and junior guard Derek St. Hilaire (8.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.8 apg) -- and this matchup could become a fun chapter in what has been a recently developing rivalry.
"If you look at the numbers, they've been a dominant rebounding team over that stretch, and they've been a dominant 3-point shooting team," McMahon said. "They're shooting it well, and they're defending it well. And then the balance has been important for them ... maybe eight guys averaging between 6.0 and 11.0 points per game."
One of those guys, 6-10, 235-pound junior forward and Czech Republic native Martin Roub, intrigues McMahon the most. He's only averaging 7.9 ppg and 2.2 rpg, but he's scoring 13.8 ppg at Pete Mathews Coliseum, and for the season is shooting 45.3% from behind the arc (24-for-53).
"He went 8-for-16 from three in their two games this past weekend (against Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State)," McMahon added. "So I think that's different from some of the opponents we've seen this season."
Different, indeed. Who draws that assignment? Is it sophomore forward KJ Williams, who's big enough? Is it Anthony Smith, who's crafty enough? Is it sophomore guard Tevin Brown, who's consistently been called the team's "best defender."
Furthermore, who takes Ware? He's seen his shooting percentages nearly crest 40% as he shakes some early rust, and now leads JSU in scoring.
"I think it's been undervalued how good Jacksonville State has been these past two years," said McMahon. "They've been a top-50, top-75 type team in the country. They've gotten the better of us down there in the last two matchups, but I don't think that'll have any impact on this game.
"I do think they've made a nice financial investment in their program there, and they've really improved the arena. It's a nice play to play, and because they've had great success, it's become a great atmosphere to play in."