On Thursday evening the Tennessee State University men's basketball team faces the nation's lone unbeaten No. 7/9 Murray State at the CFSB Center in Murray, Ky. Tip-off with the Racers is 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN3.
TSU (15-10, 8-4 Ohio Valley) is in a two-way tie with Tennessee Tech for second place in the OVC. The Big Blue extended its' win streak to five games with a 75-72 win at Southeast Missouri on Saturday, Feb. 4.
The Racers (23-0, 11-0 OVC) hold the only unblemished record in the country after reeling off 23 straight victories. Murray holds a 46-15 lead in the series, including winning eight straight games. Since 2006, TSU has only defeated the Racers twice in Murray (1996 in regulation and 2007 in overtime).
Thursday evening will be the 11th time TSU has met a team ranked in the Associated Press Top-25. The Tigers have never defeated a top-10 opponent since joining NCAA Division I. Earlier this season, TSU lost 102-69 at then-ranked No. 1 North Carolina.
Junior forward Robert Covington leads the Tiger with 17.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in 25 games this season. Covington managed his league-best seventh double-double this season, scoring 23 points and corralling 13 boards at SEMO.
Point guard Isaiah Canaan is Murray's scoring leader with 18.9 points per contest. He also leads the Racers with 87 assists and 68 triples.
This season, TSU ranks first in the OVC with a +3.1 rebounding margin. Overall, the Tigers are grabbing nearly 35 rebounds per game. The Tigers are posting 69.6 points and shooting at a 44 percent clip (598x1373) in 25 games.
Albert Dawson and Mark Pittman call the action on the Big Blue Network (102.1 FM The Light and 101.9 FM in Clarksville). Live stats will be available online at TSUTigers.com. Fans can watch live video streaming of the game at ESPN3.com.
SCOUTING THE RACERS: Murray State (23-0, 11-0 OVC) is the lone unbeaten in NCAA Division I Basketball and nationally ranked No. 7/No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches and the Associated Press Top-25 poll. The Racers have not lost a game since falling 89-76 to Missouri State on March 15, 2011. This season, MSU has notable wins over Memphis, Southern Miss and San Francisco. Isaiah Canaan, a Bob Cousy Award Finalist, leads the Racers with 18.9 points per game. The Biloxi product has knocked down 68 triples and dished out a team-best 87 assists. Donte Poole is averaging 14.2 ppg and 3.5 rpg. Ivan Aska recently returned from injury and is posting 11.9 points with a team-high 5.9 rebounds each contest. Murray State is averaging 75.2 points, holding opponents to just 61.3 per contest. The Racers are 41 percent (171x420) from 3-point range. On the boards, Murray is grabbing nearly 34 per game, holding a +2.2 margin.
IT'S MILLER TIME: Patrick Miller is second on the team with 11.4 ppg, tied for the team lead in assists (88). He has reached double-digits in 17 out of the last 22 games. Miller has multiple assists in 18 straight games. He tied a career-high with 17 points in the win at UTM. In the last five games, Miller is averaging 9.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 3.8 apg.
February... The Month of Growth: February has been a solid month for the Tigers the past three seasons. TSU has not posted a losing record during the span. Last year, the Tigers were 4-4 and in John Cooper's first season Tennessee State managed a 5-3 mark. The Tiger's best record was 6-2 during the 2008-09 campaign. This year's 6-3 January record was the best for TSU since notching a 6-5 record in the 2007-08 season. A 75-72 win over SEMO gave TSU a 1-0 record so far in Feb. 2012.
TIGERS NATIONALLY RANKED: Tennessee State is currently ranked No. 3 in the Dr. Cavil Top 10 HBCU Division I Poll and No. 4 in the Boxtorow HBCU Division I Poll released for the week of Feb. 6.
CONSISTENTLY COVINGTON: The consistency of Robert Covington has been one of TSU's strongest weapons this season. He has been the leading scorer in 18 of 25 games played this season. Against Southeast Missouri, the junior notched his 17th career double-double and an OVC-best seventh this season with 23 points and 13 rebounds. Covington also hit two treys to tie for ninth all-time in made triples at TSU (124). The Chicago product has reached double-figures in 24 straight games. Covington has collected 16 20-plus point performances in his career. With 17 points against UTM (Dec. 29), Covington eclipsed the 1,000 points mark becoming the first TSU player since Gerald Robinson, Jr. in 2009 to reach that milestone. Earlier this week, Covington was announced as Boxtorow HBCU National Player of the Week. He was named to the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational All-Tournament team earlier this season and garnered OVC Player of the Week honors on Nov. 21. On the season, Covington ranks fourth in the OVC (52nd NCAA) with 17.8 ppg, is second in the OVC (82nd NCAA) in rebounding (8.0 per game) and fourth in blocks (1.3 per game). TSU is 11-5 this season when Covington scores 17 or more points.
PLAYING IT CLOSE: This season, TSU is 9-6 in single-digit games, having played the last eight out of nine contests in single margins. The 2010-11 season saw the Tigers play 18 of their 30 games, including three overtime games, in tight-nit fashion.
IT'S GREAT TO BE AT THE GENTRY: The Tigers boast a 20-3 record at the Gentry Center during the past two seasons. TSU has won nine consecutive contests at home and finished with a 4-1 record against non-conference opponents at the Gentry. TSU has an eight-game win streak against OVC opponents dating back to Feb. 5, 2011. The Tigers' only home blemishes were losses to Belmont (2010), Murray State (2011) and MTSU (2011). TSU has a +11.4 average scoring margin at home this season.
THE IRONMAN - WIL POWER: Nashville native and Whites Creek product Wil Peters has been instrumental in the rise of the TSU program. Peters has played in 117 games and 3,290 minutes during his four-year career. The senior has 88 assists in 25 games (3.5 apg). He has totaled 359 assists for 3.1 per game in his tenure. On the season, Peters is averaging 7.8 points with an average of 33 minutes played per game.
TIGERS VERSUS NATIONALLY RANKED OPPONENTS: Since 2002, the Big Blue is 0-10 against nationally ranked opponents in the Associated Press poll. This season marks the first time since 2007-08 that TSU has played two ranked teams in the same year and the first since 06-07 that TSU will face two top-10 programs. Earlier this season, the Big Blue fell 69-102 at then ranked No. 1 North Carolina.
Here is a list of opponents and results since 2002:
Nov. 22, 2011 - @#1 North Carolina - L, 69-102
Jan. 2, 2011 - @#21 Memphis - L, 86-91
Dec. 22, 2007 - @#17 Vanderbilt - L, 74-83
Dec. 3, 2007 - @#15 Indiana - L, 72-84
Dec. 2, 2006 - @#6 Alabama - L, 60-78
Nov. 21, 2006 - @#10 Kansas - L, 54-89
Jan. 2, 2005 - @#17 Louisville - L, 64-98
Dec. 18, 2004 - @#17 Alabama - L, 79-87
Dec. 6, 2003 - @#13 Georgia Tech - L, 43-94
Dec. 30, 2002 - @#20 Kentucky - L, 87-115
LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS (RPI): Tennessee State moved up 35 spots in the Feb. 6 released RPI rankings to 174th nationally and fourth in the OVC. TSU has faced four opponents with a top-100 RPI: North Carolina 7, Saint Louis 42, Middle Tennessee 45 and Belmont 90. TSU will also play OVC-foe Murray State twice this season, which holds a 39 RPI.
GRABBING THE BOARDS: Tennessee State leads the OVC and is 83rd in the NCAA with a +3.1 rebounding margin. TSU is pulling in 34.8 rebounds per contest, while limiting opponents to 31.8 per game. Robert Covington leads TSU with 8.0 rebounds a contest, ranking second in the conference. The Tigers are 12-4 when grabbing 35+ rebounds.
LIMITING THE OPPOSITION: When TSU limits its' opposition to 45 percent or less shooting, the Tigers are a remarkable 13-1. TSU is also 11-2 when they hold opponents to less than 67 points. The Big Blue has a 7-0 record when opponents bank less than 40 percent of their FGAs. In contrast, the Tigers are 1-7 when giving up 50 percent or more.
TRIPLE THREAT: The Tigers have plenty of options when it comes to 3-point shooting. TSU ranks sixth in the OVC with a 35.3 average (163-of-462). Four players have combined for 334 career made 3-pointers: Robert Covington (124), Wil Peters (120), Kenny Moore (50) and Patrick Miller (40). Covington is tied for ninth all-time at TSU with 124 triples, tying Darryl Brooks' mark set during the 1986-90 campaigns.
LINE ME UP: This season, Coach John Cooper has experimented with nine different lineups. His latest tweak seems to be working. The Tigers hold a 7-1 record in the past six games with the combination of G Wil Peters, G Patrick Miller, G Jay Harris, F Robert Covington and F M.J. Rhett. The Tiger's only blemish was a 69-63 road loss to Austin Peay.
MARGINALLY TELLING: Tennessee State has played in many closely contested games since the 2008-09 seasons. During that span, the Tigers are 10-22 on the road in games decided by six points or less. In contrast, the Tigers boast a 15-2 record at the Gentry.
YOU GELLIN' KELLEN?: Kellen Thornton has been on fire in the past five contests. The Illinois State transfer is posting 14.4 ppg and 4.8 rpg. The Chicago product has clipped 58 percent (25-of-43) during that stretch, while grabbing three steals. On Monday, Thornton was named OVC Newcomer of the Week after tallying 15.0 ppg and 5.5 rpg in wins over Austin Peay and SEMO.
SETTING THE MARK: Robert Covington and Wil Peters are close to reaching some career marks at Tennessee State. Covington is just 38 points away from reaching TSU's top-20 list for points scored and passing Mike Johnson's mark of 1,251 points set during the 1972-76 seasons. Covington is 25 rebounds away from reaching 13th on the all-time list. He has corralled 634 rebounds in 87 career games played. Peters is 99 points away from reaching 1,000 points in his career. Peters is also 90 assists shy of becoming the all-time assists leader at Tennessee State.
WHO WE GOT?: Tennessee State will face the Mid-American Conference's Miami (7-14, 3-6) in the ESPN Sears BracketBuster on Sunday, Feb. 19. The Tigers are 1-0 against the MAC this season as TSU defeated Central Michigan 65-57 on Dec. 10. Coach John Cooper is 1-2 all-time against MAC opponents.
BARNETT'S QUEST: Former NBA star and Tennessee State legend Dr. Dick Barnett was on campus in November in hopes of getting support from the university and Nashville community for his quest to have the 1957, 1958 and 1959 NAIA National Champion teams recognized in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Dr. Barnett was a member of three peat National Champions and went on to have an illustrious career in the NBA, most notably with the New York Knicks. A documentary film crew was also on hand, filming Barnett's quest to have the team recognized in the HOF. The crew called Live Star Entertainment recently produced a documentary for HBO called Cornered: A Life Caught in the Ring.
-- TSU TIGERS --