Sports Journalism Blog

By Derek Harper | @RealDerekHarper

INDIANAPOLIS — The seventh-seeded Murray State Racers will take on the No. 10 San Francisco Dons at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Thursday at 9:40 p.m. For the Dons, it’ll be their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. The Dons finished 24-9 on the season and 10-6 overall in the West Coast Conference. However, they lost all five games against WCC powerhouses Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga.

That talent includes senior guard Jamaree Bouyea, senior forward Yauhen Massalski and senior guard Khalil Shabazz. Bouyea averages 16.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in 35.9 minutes of action in 33 games played. Massalski hauled in an average of 13.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 27.2 minutes of action in 32 games played. Bouyea and Massalski’s rebounds will be key in their matchup with Murray State to contain their high-octane offense. For the Dons, Shabazz has averaged 14.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 29.6 minutes of action in 33 games played.

Murray State (30-2) is making its 18th appearance, and the third in the last four tournaments.

Coach Todd Golden touched on his team’s approach to Thursday night’s game against a Murray State team that enters the tournament with a 20-game winning streak.

“You know, we will try to be as consistent as possible in regards to our approach and preparation,” Golden said. “Obviously it’s a big moment for us and our program, but the way we prepare won’t change. We will prepare the same way we did for the first game of the season as we will for this one tomorrow night. Obviously a big challenge ahead of us, but trying to be super consistent, to be honest.”

Shabazz spent his first college season in Ellensburg, Washington with the Division II Central Washington University Wildcats and garnered multiple honors. According to an article by Luke Olson in the Daily Record, Shabazz started 24 of 26 games for the Wildcats and averaged 15.3 points on 44.7% shooting including 41.8% from three. He received the Great Northwest Athletic Conference freshman of the year honor and a GNAC honorable mention. Shabazz then transferred to the San Francisco Dons for the remainder of his college career.

“Honestly, it’s been like a movie,” Shabazz said. “A lot of dudes don’t go Division II and then move up and have this opportunity to play in March Madness. So I’m just trying to enjoy every minute of it. It’s a blessing. I’m just trying to take it all in and make the most of it.”

The two schools have only met once before, at the Great Alaska Shootout in 2011, where Murray State came away with a 70-67 victory. For the Racers that season, that win was part of a streak where they won 23 straight games and were the last undefeated team.

The Racers are led by junior guard Tevin Brown, the 3-point leader of the Ohio Valley Conference. Junior forward KJ Williams was awarded the conference’s Player of the Year Award. Williams currently averages 18.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game in 32 games this season.

“We look to moments like this, just come out and play our game and look up to the potential that we play, so we just come out and play regular basketball,” Williams said.

For three Dons players, the end of the regular season has been anything but normal, and not because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Center Volodymyr Markovetskyy hails from Ukraine while teammates Yauhen Massalski and Dzmitry Ryuny hail from Belarus. According to an article by Alex Prewitt of Sports Illustrated, despite being on opposite sides of the conflict in Ukraine, the three stand in solidarity. Their message is simple, to please hear them and stop the war. Markovetskyy’s mother and sister fled the country while his father, a police officer, stayed behind to defend their home.