NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Murray State’s 11-game winning streak and unblemished conference start is finished.
Thursday night at the Curb Center, the Racers fell to Belmont, 71-64, in what was another electric affair between two of the Ohio Valley Conference’s giants.
MSU (17-6, 10-1 OVC) did almost everything it needed to for a win. The Bruins (17-7, 8-3) were held to 4-for-25 from the arc (missing their first 15 attempts), were outrebounded 43-to-33 and outscored by the Racers’ bench 24-to-8.
But 22 turnovers, and the 19 points from them, were the heaviest of factors in MSU’s defeat.
“They’re a good pressure team,” noted Racer senior forward Anthony Smith, who – alongside sophomore Tevin Brown and senior Javieon Eaves – each had five turnovers. “It was just bad decision on our end. They hit us with a good run early, and we just made the wrong decisions at the wrong time.”
Indeed, Belmont rolled to an 18-5 start, in which the Racers had committed eight turnovers in the stretch.
“I thought, especially early in the game when they hit us with that run, it was just very surprising turnovers,” noted fifth-year MSU coach Matt McMahon. “But I thought as the game wore on, (Belmont’s) activity level … I want to make sure they get their credit for their effort defensively … but I do agree, where I don’t know if we didn’t see the defender there, or what the breakdown was.
“But we just threw the ball away a lot.”
Reckless turnovers aside, the Racers trailed just 32-26 at the break – then took a brief lead at 46-45 behind three straight baskets from junior Devin Gilmore (13 points) and a triple from freshman point guard DaQuan Smith (12 points, five rebounds, five assists, 2-for-9 from the arc).
Immediately, the Bruins responded. Senior graduate transfer Tyler Scanlon (21 point, nine rebounds, 9-for-19 shooting) – who went 1-for-10 from the arc – canned his only triple of the night to retake the lead, starting a 10-3 run for Belmont.
MSU sophomore forward KJ Williams drilled back-to-back triples, cutting it to a 55-52 Racer deficit. But every call had an answer, perhaps none more emphatic than a Scanlon backcut after a Brown layup, giving the Bruins a 67-61 lead with 1:48 to go.
Belmont – one of the nation’s best in two-point percentage – executed for 48 paint points (MSU had 28) and shot 25-for-39 inside the arc.
“I’ve said it for a long time: everyone always says ‘just worry about the three,’” McMahon added. “We certainly didn’t have that approach. We wanted to guard both. But when you have balance, it makes it tough. We guarded the three well. I don’t know if they just missed, but I thought we had good contests.
“But, some of the breakdowns on the backdoor cuts that you just can’t give up in a possession by possession game. Obviously, it was an ugly game. Bottom line. It was an ugly game. But you’ve got to find a way to try to win it somehow, some way. And I thought Belmont made the plays. Got us on a couple backdoors, especially Scanlon. He drove us. And I know he was only 1-of-10 from three, but the one was huge.”
With seven regular-season conference games to go, MSU does remain in a tie for first place in the league, as previously conference unbeaten Austin Peay fell at Tennessee State, 70-68, Thursday. Eastern Kentucky moved to just one game back (9-2) after knocking off Eastern Illinois, 91-84, in Charleston, Illinois. The Panthers had been unbeaten at home until the Colonels changed that.
Balance not enough
The Racers got double-digit scoring from DaQuan Smith, Brown, Eaves, Williams and Gilmore – who uncannily led the team in scoring on 5-for-6 shooting with five rebounds and an assist.
But Brown was particularly bottled, limited to 3-for-10 from the field. He’d still manage six rebounds and four assists, but two early first-half fouls kept him to just 34:49 of game action.
And MSU shot just 39.3% from the floor (24-for-61) and 8-for-22 from the arc (36.4%).
“I thought they did a good job of tricking some of our guys into taking some shots we shouldn’t’ve been taking,” McMahon said. “Really baited us in, and we took the bait. And then, I thought their physicality and denial on Tevin was good. Thought they had a good plan. We had our opportunities, and unfortunately weren’t able to take advantage of them due to the turnovers.”
Belmont 71, Murray St. 64
MURRAY ST. (17-6) — Robinson 2-7 0-0 4, A.Smith 1-5 0-0 2, Brown 3-10 3-5 10, Eaves 4-7 2-2 12, D.Smith 5-15 0-0 12, Gilmore 5-6 3-3 13, Williams 4-9 0-0 11, Holliday 0-2 0-0 0, Kamba 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-61 8-10 64.
BELMONT (17-7) — Scanlon 9-19 2-3 21, Muszynski 6-15 0-0 12, Benkert 1-3 0-0 2, Kunkel 6-11 6-6 20, Murphy 4-7 0-0 8, Sheppard 0-2 0-0 0, Pierson 2-3 0-0 5, Adelsperger 0-0 1-2 1, Hollander 1-3 0-0 2, Hopkins 0-0 0-0 0, Listau 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-64 9-11 71.
Halftime: Belmont 32-26. 3-Point Goals: Murray St. 8-22 (Williams 3-5, Eaves 2-3, D.Smith 2-9, Brown 1-4, Holliday 0-1), Belmont 4-25 (Kunkel 2-5, Pierson 1-2, Scanlon 1-10, Benkert 0-1, Listau 0-1, Murphy 0-1, Sheppard 0-1, Hollander 0-2, Muszynski 0-2). Rebounds: Murray St. 40 (A.Smith 10), Belmont 33 (Scanlon 9). Assists: Murray St. 13 (D.Smith 5), Belmont 16 (Kunkel, Murphy 5). Total Fouls: Murray St. 14, Belmont 16. A: 2,703 (5,085).