Since the beginning of the Ohio Valley Conference slate, the Murray State Racers have been an offensive engine on the way to a roaring 8-0 start.

Why? Because better passing leads to better shooting (and, consequently, more free throws with defenders out of place).

Since January, Tevin Brown (35-to-22), KJ Williams (11-to-10), DaQuan Smith (30-to-14) and Chico Carter Jr. (16-to-8) all currently possess positive assist-to-turnover ratios, while Anthony Smith (12-to-13), Jaiveon Eaves (18-to-19), Demond Robinson (6-to-12) and Devin Gilmore (2-to-2) are close behind.

During that time, the Racers (15-5, 8-0 OVC) have shot 57.1% (169-for-296) inside the arc, and 41.6% from behind it (62-for-149).

In the previous 12-game non-conference slate, the Racers were almost 9% worse from behind the arc (71-for-216, 32.8%) and more than 4% worse inside of it (246-for-465, 52.9%).

And the biggest difference has been converted assists. MSU is averaging 16.5 assists and 83.0 ppg against the OVC, bolstered after a glistening 19 dimes on 25 baskets in last Saturday's convincing home win over Tennessee State.

In the previous 12 games, the Racers were averaging 14.9 assists and 74.7 ppg.

Now, mix in the fact MSU is taking -- on average -- one more free throw per game in conference play (24.4 per game in OVC, 23.3 in non-conference), and it's leading to a successful recipe.

"I think it's very important to our team," noted MSU coach Matt McMahon earlier this week. "I think it's fun to watch a team play the game that way. I want us to share the ball and play with great unselfishness. Pass up good shots to get great shots. I think it's enabled us to have better balance, both in the post and on the perimeter.

"And I think it's a big reason why you see our 3-point percentage is a lot higher over the last 10 games, as compared to the first 10. It's because of the improved offensive execution and the sharing of the basketball."

Williams' 3s continue

Williams' 3-point shot has certainly improved during this time, too. The 6-10 sophomore forward is shooting 57% from the field and 5-for-15 from the arc over these last eight games, but was 4-for-19 from the arc in the previous 12 games -- with two of those makes coming in a loss at Tennessee.

He's also made his last 12 free throws, after going just 4-for-9 in a near-loss at Southeast Missouri State.

"He's a good 3-point shooter," McMahon said. "He's worked extremely hard on it in the offseason. Had a great summer shooting the basketball. I think you've seen his percentages go up in conference play because he's taken higher-quality threes than he was taking in the non-conference portion of the season.

"But it's like anything else: if you want a 6-10 guy who's going to make threes, you've got to shoot some of them. And so, I want him taking high-percentage shots, and he should have full confidence to step up and knock those down.

"He hit a huge one on Thursday night against Belmont (to make it 65-61), with about six minutes to go, and we believe in him as a shooter. Now, at the same time, I don't want him to get away from where he's really, really good -- which is being the all-time single-season field-goal percentage leader in MSU history by being really efficient near the basket. And on Saturday night, he did a really good job getting to the free throw line, where he's had a little bit of struggle this year, and went 8-for-8 from the line. I hope he'll take a little bit of confidence from that."

Panthers prowling

Following the loss of star guard Deang Deang in a win at Milwaukee, Eastern Illinois (12-9, 4-4) endured a brutish road stretch that began with a win at Western Illinois on Dec. 16 before five straight losses -- at Grand Canyon, at Tennessee State, at Belmont, at Eastern Kentucky and at Morehead State.

Since, however, the Panthers have won four in a row en route to a 7-0 start in Charleston, Illinois, against Jacksonville State, Tennessee Tech, UT Martin and Southeast Missouri.

Junior guard Mack Smith has connected on a 3-pointer in 69 consecutive games, and leads the Panthers in scoring (13.2 ppg) and 3-point makes (48). Hopkinsville native JaQualis Matlock has appeared in all 20 games for EIU with 13 starts, and leads the team in blocks (25) while averaging 5.8 points and 4.5 boards per game.

But it's a pair of junior guards -- Josiah Wallace (12.9 ppg, 46.3% shooting) and George Dixon (12.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg) -- who have McMahon's attention during this four-game winning streak for the Panthers.

"Really good player," McMahon said of Dixon. "Very skilled. Can score the ball in the post. Outstanding offensive rebounder. Top five in our league. Long arms. Really active. Physical player.

"And of course, they've got Josiah Wallace back, who was an all-league performer last year, who's played terrific their last 10 games or so. His production's way up, and I think coach Spoonhour does just such a great job identifying really good junior college players, who've just come in and impacted his program."

By the Numbers

MSU EIU

PPG 78.0 75.8

PA 65.0 68.1

FG% 48.7 46.1

FG%D 40.4 40.6

3PT% 36.4 35.1

3PT%D 34.7 34.1

FT% 71.3 68.0

REB 38.6 37.2

RMAR plus-9.4 plus-1.3

APG 15.6 14.2

TOPG 13.5 13.1

SPG 5.5 7.8

BPG 3.6 4.6

Murray State vs. Eastern Illinois

Time: 7 tonight

Location: Murray

Venue: CFSB Center (8,600)

MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (102-47, 5th year)

EIU Head Coach: Jay Spoonhour (210-165, 12th year, 8th at EIU)

All-Time Series: MSU leads 48-11

Listen Live: Froggy 103.7 FM (PxP: Neal Bradley, Color: Kenny Roth)

Follow Live: ESPN+, @RacersHoops, @RacerDave23, @dreamarlowe85

Murray State vs. Eastern Illinois

Time: 7 tonight

Location: Murray

Venue: CFSB Center (8,600)

MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (102-47, 5th year)

EIU Head Coach: Jay Spoonhour (210-165, 12th year, 8th at EIU)

All-Time Series: MSU leads 48-11

Listen Live: Froggy 103.7 FM (PxP: Neal Bradley, Color: Kenny Roth)

Follow Live: ESPN+, @RacersHoops, @RacerDave23, @dreamarlowe85

By the Numbers

MSU EIU

PPG 78.0 75.8

PA 65.0 68.1

FG% 48.7 46.1

FG%D 40.4 40.6

3PT% 36.4 35.1

3PT%D 34.7 34.1

FT% 71.3 68.0

REB 38.6 37.2

RMAR plus-9.4 plus-1.3

APG 15.6 14.2

TOPG 13.5 13.1

SPG 5.5 7.8

BPG 3.6 4.6

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for Reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.