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Rivalry renewed: Govs looking to pull even with Racers

By Colby Wilson

APSU Athletics Communications

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. —Alright. It’s time.

The 2020 series between Austin Peay and Murray State – The First Financial Bank Battle of the Border–kicks off on ESPNU, 8 p.m., Thursday night, with the Govs set to host the first meeting.

The stakes are as high for this rivalry as they’ve been in years. An Austin Peay win pulls the Govs equal to the Racers at the top of the Ohio Valley Conference, and would give the Govs the edge in head-to-head matchups; a loss would put the Racers two games up on the league in the loss column with five league contests remaining.

Thursday’s game will be a Red Out—all fans are encouraged, to quote Director of Athletics Gerald Harrison, See Red! The first 250 students in attendance will receive priority seating in the lower level and can pick up a red “I’m A Gov” t-shirt at the marketing table, and pizza courtesy Michael’s Pizza. Gates open at 4 p.m. for the women’s game; after the 250 seats are filled in the lower bowl, students will be redirected to the upper bowl area. Game sponsor First Financial Bank will provide 500 red Battle of the Border shirts while supplies last, and provide those shirts to students after the 250 “I’m A Gov” shirts are gone.

Scouting the Racers

Ja Morant is now in Memphis, the NBA version, where he’s leading the Grizzlies to unexpected success in a tough Western Conference. Delightful for him, and for Ohio Valley Conference defenders who no longer have to figure out a way to stop him.

But Murray State doesn’t rebuild; the Racers reload, and Matt McMahon has once again assembled a deep, talented team around the skillset of Tevin Brown, who was the Robin to Morant’s Batman last year. Brown has developed into one of the nation’s sharpshooters, hitting 45.1 percent from three and making more than three per game on his way to 18.5 points per game. Brown’s Racer brethren don’t take many threes per night, but they make them at a rate (36.8 percent) which leads the OVC and ranks 38th nationally.

Murray State has hassled opponents on the glass all season, with Anthony Smith and KJ Wlliams combining for 15.3 boards per game. Smith, whose senior season was cut short in December 2018, was granted his fifth year of eligibility and responded with 9.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, including some very Terry Taylor-esque efforts against Southeast Missouri (22 points, 10 rebounds), UT Martin (17 and 12) and Brescia (13 and 14). The battle between Taylor and Eli Abaev against Murray State’s efficient duo is one of the most intriguing subplots in a contest full of them.

With Morant gone, Murray State has turned over the offensive reigns to a redshirt freshman who spent 2018-19 learning from his predecessor. The ball movement the Racers displayed with Morant at the helm has continued, with Murray State averaging 14.7 assists per game, led by DaQuan Smith at 3.9.

Last Time Out Against Murray State

The Govs closed out the 2019 regular season with a 94-83 loss at Murray State, despite a 16-point first half from Steve Harris in his first appearance as a reserve since November and four first-half threes from Terry Taylor. The Govs led by as many as six points early in the second half, but foul trouble for a host of Govs and a 55 percent shooting mark overall for the Racers conspired to send Austin Peay into the 2019 OVC Tournament on a two-game slide.

Keep An Eye On…

  • A win would snap a five-game losing streak against the Racers and hand Murray State its second league road loss in three games
  • Terry Taylor and Murray State’s Tevin Brown are two of the most vital players in the nation to their teams fortunes; via cbbreference.com’s Win Shares metric (an estimate of the number of wins a player has contributed to due to their offense and defense), Taylor is second nationally with 5.4 win shares, while Brown ranks 14th at 4.8.
  • A loss would be Austin Peay’s first in the Dunn Center since Feb. 14, 2019.
  • Taylor is one of five active Division I players who has shot better than 50 percent from the floor (54.4), 35 percent from three (36.1) and 70 percent at the line (72.0) for his career. He’s one of only four players currently averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per night in 2019-20.
  • The Govs are at plus-5.3 in average rebound margin and plus-3.0 in turnover margin since OVC play began, Jan. 2.
  • Milestone Watch: Taylor needs two blocked shots to pass Bubba Wells (1993-97) for eighth hall-time. He needs 14 steals and four blocked shots to become the fifth player in program history with 100 steals and 100 blocks.

They Said It

Govs fans let’s fill the Dunn for @AustinPeayWBB and @AustinPeayMBB games against the Murray State Mules. Be LOUD and PROUD, and silence the Mule fans! We need  to fill the student section AND be loud the entire game! The Govs deserve a large, loud crowd! #Letsgopeay #gogovs— Scott Kirkman (@Govsfan) February 12, 2020

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