As a 43% 3-point shooter this season — and after canning 90 at 37.2% as a redshirt freshman a year ago — it’d be awfully easy for Murray State’s sophomore guard Tevin Brown to settle for more deep shots.
After all, this is the long-ball era. It’s a time where the arcing bombs from sharpshooters draw just as much cheering from the stands as a thunderous dunk. And it brings just as much praise from coaches, who ache for opposing defenses to stretch and meet the shooter like saran wrap does on some tupperware full of leftovers.
But Brown hasn’t settled. He’s been more selective.
In 33 games last year, 77% of his field-goal attempts (314) were from deep (242).
In 26 games this year, 56% of his field-goal attempts (313) are from deep (175).
Instead, he’s finding points everywhere else. To this point, he’s already taken 100 more free throws (147) than all of his freshman year (47), and 44% of his shots have come either at the rim or inside the arc.
It’s this three-level scoring and versatility that’s helped him avoid the proverbial “sophomore slump,” as he’s gone from 11.8 ppg to a team-leading 18.2 ppg, while being second on the team in assists (94), first in steals (27) and third in rebounding (4.6 rpg).
Clearly, Brown was tasked to shoot a bulk of 3-pointers during the 2018-19 season, when Ja Morant and Shaq Buchanan ruled the roost.
But his responsibilities have increased in his second year on the job, and he’s shown he’s beyond capable of multitasking and problem-solving at a high level.
“I think it’s one place our players never get enough credit over the last few years,” noted MSU fifth-year coach Matt McMahon. “He’s a smart player. Got an unbelievable basketball IQ. Great feel for the game. Knows how to read screens. Is an excellent passer. You’ve seen this year, that he can score at all three levels offensively. And then, on top of that, we usually ask him to chase the other team’s best guard for 40 minutes.
“When you get talented players like Tevin Brown, I try not to over-coach them. I just want them to go play with great confidence and freedom.”
Even in last week’s 71-68 nail-biting loss at Austin Peay, where he had seven turnovers, Brown still finished with 13 points, five boards and six assists — despite battling three fouls and 1-for-5 shooting from the arc.
“He’s done a nice job with it,” McMahon added, regarding pressure. “Teams are going to try and deny him, limit his touches and try to take away some of his open looks. But his ability to get to the free throw line has just been huge for our team this year. Got some really good (3-point) looks on Saturday (against Morehead State) that he’d normally make. He just missed a couple open ones. But he just impacts the game in so many different ways. And that’s the big things we talk about with him. I don’t want our guys just looking at the box score and seeing what they did from a shooting standpoint. They might take 10, 12 shots a game. Well, there’s a lot more impact you can make on both ends of the court, and I think he continues to do that.
“But it’s on us — as a team, and Tevin, and coaches — to make sure we’re getting him in the right position, so that he can continue to score it at a high clip for us.”
Panthers positionedThe last time Murray State played Eastern Illinois (Jan. 30), the Panthers (12-14, 5-9 OVC) nearly upset the Racers at the CFSB Center, before a last-second 3-point attempt from elite scorer Josiah Wallace harmlessly caromed and left MSU with a 73-70 win.
EIU did something no team had done before or since to the Racers: outrebound them. And dominantly so. The Panthers finished with a 22-6 stretch on the offensive glass, and a 44-28 rebounding margin overall.
Wallace scored 20 of his game-high 24 points in an electric second half, got a combined 13 offensive boards from George Dixon (eight) and JaQualis Matlock (five) and thrashed in paint scoring over MSU, 44-26.
Asked if there was any improvement his team could make against EIU going into tonight at Lantz Arena in Charleston, Illinois, McMahon was frank.
“There’s a lot,” he said. “They kicked our butt. They kicked our butt physically. They dominated the glass. They dominated the paint. They dominated second-chance opportunities. Fortunately, our defense was good enough to win. But I think they have a very good team. Josiah Wallace scored 20 points in the second half. Hit some really difficult shots. Mack Smith, a terrific scorer from behind the 3-point arc, is a really strong physical guard. And they just absolutely dominated the glass in that game. Really the only time we’ve been dominated on the glass all season long. It’ll be a big game for us, and there’s certainly some areas where we’ll have to address both on the glass and defensively because of their motion offense.”
For the Racers, every game is a big game from this point forward. MSU is tied with Austin Peay for the regular-season conference championship (both at 12-2), and the Panthers — under longtime coach Jay Spoonhour — are a strong 8-2 at home this season.
Since that Jan. 30 meeting, however, EIU has lost five of six, and all by seven points or less (UT Martin, SIU Edwardsville, Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay).
Murray State vs. Eastern Illinois
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Charleston, Ill.
Venue: Lantz Arena (5,400)
MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (106-49, 5th year)
EIU Head Coach: Jay Spoonhour (211-170, 12th year, 8th at EIU)
All-Time Series: MSU leads 49-11
Last Met: Jan. 30, 2020 (MSU won 73-70)
Listen Live: Froggy 103.7 FM (PxP: Neal Bradley, Color: Kenny Roth)
Follow Live: ESPN+, @RacersHoops, @RacerDave23, @dreamarlowe85