Kevin Murphy is the man. Tennessee Tech's senior guard is averaging 21.8 points per game, which makes him the nation's fifth leading scorer in terms of points per game. On January 21st, he scored 26 against Southeast Missouri State. Five nights later, he hung 34 on Eastern Kentucky. Two nights following that, he had a down night, only putting up 18 against Morehead State. Then it happened. On a Monday night in Cookeville, Kevin Murphy made 16 of 21 field goals attempted. He was six-of-nine from behind the arc. He also added seven boards. When the carnage was over, Murphy became the first player this season to score 50 points. Tennessee Tech routed Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 98-80. For good measure, Murphy dropped 33 on Austin Peay three nights later.
That brings us to Pete Matthews Coliseum in Jacksonville, Alabama. The burden of containing Murphy will fall on the once lowly Gamecocks. Things have changed in recent weeks for Jacksonville State (JSU). The Gamecocks have won four consecutive Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) games (for the first time ever, no I'm not kidding), and five of their last seven to pull into the eighth and final spot in the OVC tournament. It began with a win over Tennessee State. The Gamecocks followed that up with good performances at Murray State and Austin Peay, albeit in losing efforts. The four game conference winning streak all began in Cookeville two weeks ago; and oh where do we start on that game? Jacksonville State went to Tennessee Tech as big underdogs. The game started off precariously as students from Tech threw up toilet paper after Tech's first basket. This is a tradition they call the blizzard. Tech received a technical after some of the toilet paper found its way to the floor. That would be huge later. Tennessee Tech led by one with six second left and Kevin Murphy at the line. Murphy would hit the first free throw, and miss the second. The Gamecocks quickly moved the ball down the floor, and Dion Waiters moved inside the paint for a layup and a chance to send the game into overtime. As Waiters went up he was fouled. Dion hit the layup after the buzzer, but the officials ruled that he was in the act of shooting while being fouled. Count the basket and give Waiters a free throw. Dion sunk the free throw, and the Gamecocks shocked the Eagles in Cookeville. Kevin Murphy had eight points.
Inside Pete Matthews Coliseum, all the talk was about Murphy. Could the Gamecocks stop him? Tech's warm up uniforms didn't have names on them, so people were trying to figure out who he was. This team is full of big, athletic guys. It could be any one of these guys. Finally, Murphy was introduced, and the JSU pep band let him have it, with the "overrated" chant.
Out of the gate, Murphy looked overrated. He missed on his first four shots. JSU had a man in his face the entire game. Gamecocks head coach James Green was not going to let the big man beat them. In his wake, Jud Dillard was playing lights out. Before you could blink, the Golden Eagles' forward had 10 points. He would finish with 26.
The first half was close, with Tennessee Tech leading most of the way. Murphy would finally get some easy looks late in the half on some back door cuts. The senior would finish with ten in the first half and 23 overall, two above his season average.
Tech's unheralded star may be their point guard Zac Swansey. He is the kind of gritty kid you love to have on your team. Swansey was quick to pick off lazy Gamecock passes in the back court. He did so six times. He was masterful in directing Tech's quick paced offense. While Swansey only had six points, he did dish out eleven assists.
For the Gamecocks, it was a disappointing home loss. JSU's hopes to rise into the top four and secure a bye in the first round of the OVC tournament took a major hit with the loss. But this is Jacksonville State. Just making the tournament is quite the accomplishment. The team is playing better, and the future is fairly bright. With the dismissal of their only senior three weeks ago, Jacksonville State returns their entire roster next season. It is a roster that is playing much better, and is enough to give this JSU fan some reason for optimism.
Tonight, the gulf in talent between the two teams was obvious. JSU is working on becoming a solid program, something Tennessee Tech has accomplished. Despite their best efforts, Jacksonville State couldn't contain Kevin Murphy. They had even more problems with Murphy's number two, Jud Dillard.
The next month brings interesting questions for both teams. Can Jacksonville State advance out of the first round of the OVC tournament? Can Tennessee Tech take down undefeated Murray State? It looks to be an interesting last month in the Ohio Valley Conference. Stay tuned.
TENNESSEE TECH 76, at JACKSONVILLE STATE 68 02/04/2012
TENNESSEE TECH 16-9 (8-4) -- H. Haley 8-15 4-4 22; J. Dillard 9-13 8-9 26; K. Murphy 10-17 2-2 23; Z. Swansey 3-6 0-0 6; Z. Bailey 2-6 0-0 4; T. Barnes 1-2 1-3 3; B. Inameti 2-3 0-2 4; D. Ogbe 1-1 0-0 2; J. McKay 2-2 2-2 6; C. Dunn 0-1 2-2 2; L. McMorrow 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-51 15-20 76. JACKSONVILLE STATE 10-16 (5-7) -- B. Williams 6-20 2-2 18; N. Cook 3-6 0-0 6; T. Gaines 8-14 2-2 19; D. Rackley 2-5 3-4 7; R. Boggs 3-6 0-0 6; D. Waiters 2-4 0-1 4; G. White 0-3 2-2 2; M. Leggett 2-3 2-2 6; R. Mafra 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-61 11-13 68.
Three-point goals: TNT 1-6 (Z. Swansey 0-1; Z. Bailey 0-2; K. Murphy 1-3), JXST 5-20 (B. Williams 4-12; R. Boggs 0-1; D. Rackley 0-3; T. Gaines 1-4); Rebounds: TNT 31 (J. Dillard 12), JXST 26 (N. Cook 8); Assists: TNT 21 (Z. Swansey 11), JXST 18 (D. Rackley 6); Total Fouls -- TNT 14, JXST 18; Fouled Out: TNT-Z. Bailey; JXST-None.