MURRAY — The Murray State basketball program welcomed the Morehead State Eagles to the CFSB Center on Saturday in a much-welcomed Ohio Valley Conference home contest as a reprieve from a multiple-game conference road-stint. The Racers’ (4-5, 1-3) 25-game home winning-streak was snapped, falling 61-56, as the Eagles (5-6, 2-2) were able to use a red-hot start combined with sluggish first-half play for Murray State which let the visitors pull away early and never let the Racers fully recover.
The Racers started out slowly again, this time against the Eagles, falling behind by as many as 13 points twice in the opening half, thanks to red-hot shooting from Morehead and the complete opposite from the home team. Morehead started out shooting 73% in the first 12:15 seconds and outscoring the Racers 18-0 in the paint. Multiple offensive fouls and 10 turnovers in the half put them down early, with the only bright spot being an offensive resurgence from guard Tevin Brown. The junior was almost the entire Racer offense in the opening period, scoring 13 points, all while playing with two quick fouls. The first half ended with MSU trailing 36-29.
The rest of the Racers picked it up to begin the second half and Brown never let off the offensive gas as he and sophomore forward Demond Binson scored the first 10 points and cut the lead down to two points, 39-37. A full-court press and an uncharacteristic technical foul on McMahon seemed to spark more intensity from the Racers. The Eagles cooled off considerably as a result, starting the half only 4-10 for 40% FG and letting the Racers grab the first 11 of 17 rebounds, quite the turnaround from the first half.
But every time the Racers would pull close, something would go awry, most importantly getting a chance to cut the lead to four at 46-40 with 10:55 to go in the game, Brown unnecessarily picked up his fourth foul off the ball and sent the game into the under-12 media timeout and seemingly halting the Racers’ momentum. A 4:43 scoring drought, missed free throws, foul trouble and four more turnovers allowed the Eagles to keep the Racers from pulling close again for several minutes.
Junior guard Brion Whitley’s corner three at the 3:15 mark pulled the Racers back into the game, cutting the lead to 56-52, followed by junior forward K.J. Williams’ basket, a travelling turnover and Bryan fouling out contesting another Williams drive, tied the score at 56-56 with 2:02 to go.
Williams then fouled out on the next possession at the offensive end with 1:23 remaining giving the visitors the ball back. Cooper was fouled by Juice Hill with under a minute to play, who sank the free throws giving Morehead a two-point lead.
After a Morehead timeout, Racers lost Cooper on an inbound-play under the basket and the Eagles went up four with under 0:10 to play and multiple three-point attempts at the end drew iron for the Racers and allowed the Eagles to snap the winning streak.
“It was a great play design by Coach Spradlin,” said Racer Head Coach Matt McMahon. “We were trailing and did not check the backscreen and guarding the in-bounder. We left the basket and went to try to pressure the in-bounder and left the backside wide open. It was a breakdown on our end in what was obviously a very critical moment and they executed better than we did.”
Brown led the Racers in scoring and assists, finishing with 17 and three respectively, but ultimately cooled off considerably compared to his hot start and that doomed their offense with nobody else contributing double-figures. Williams did pitch in double-figure rebounds with 10, to go with eight points before fouling out.
“(Brown) was very aggressive,” said McMahon. “I thought we did a better job getting him open and getting some opportunities to get downhill. We need him to shoot a better percentage than 6-of-19, but I liked his aggressiveness. I really believe in him as a player and those are opportunities that I want him to get.”
The Eagles were led in scoring by junior guard DeVon Cooper, with 19 points and six boards. Junior forward L.J. Bryan filled in admirably, scoring 10 points, for impressive freshman center Johni Broome who did not see the floor for the Eagles. This would’ve been an advantage for the Racers if they were able to capitalize, but they could not, leading to the now three-game losing slide for Murray State. It was also the first time since Jan 2003 that Morehead was able to escape Murray with a win, 83-76.
In an attempt to reverse the course over the last couple of games, McMahon changed the starting lineup for the contest, with Murray native freshman Jackson Sivills getting his first start, and proceeded to score the second basket of the game for the Racers with a three-pointer from the left wing to give them their last lead in the game at 6-4 early.
“(I was) just trying to mix some things up,” said McMahon. “(I was) trying to motivate some people. I think Jackson earned the opportunity through his work in practice. We were trying to get the floor more spread out. A lot of times this year with our big lineup our floor, spacing’s been poor; trying to open up the court to give K.J. and Demond more opportunities to score. I thought Jackson did a lot of good things for us on both ends of the court.”
McMahon is still searching for an identity for his team, which he has stressed during this uncharacteristic losing streak, and answers for the lackluster play as of late. The turnover issue plagued the Racers again tonight and McMahon was at a loss for some of the mistakes that cost dearly tonight.
“If I had an explanation, I’d fix it,” said a clearly frustrated McMahon. “I saw us throw the ball off the scorer’s table, dribble off our foot, throw passes that aren’t open. There were a couple of brutal illegal screen calls that count as turnovers, but when you’re struggling to score you can’t afford to give the ball back to the other team.”
Now the Racers have to go back on the road for the next four conference games, with Eastern Illinois (4-5, 1-1) up next on their slate. The next home game won’t be for almost three weeks, so the team won’t have the familiar confines of the CFSB Center to figure it out.
Tipoff against the Panthers is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7.