With 10:43 left in the first half of Thursday’s conference opener against UT Martin, Murray State freshman guard Chico Carter Jr. checked in for fellow freshman guard DaQuan Smith, and immediately went to work.

A Demond Robinson block became a no-look pass from Carter to senior Anthony Smith for a slam, and a 25-14 advantage.

His quick pass into the right corner from the top of the key found senior Jaiveon Eaves for a 3-pointer and a 28-19 lead.

A Carter drive in those final first-half seconds led to an open Devin Gilmore, who dunked it at the buzzer for a 48-33 spread at the break.

And in the second half, with the Skyhawks surging, Carter subbed in again — this time at the 16:21 mark. Two minutes later, his jumper extended MSU’s edge to 54-42. Sophomore forward KJ Williams located him on an outside kick, and his 3-pointer made it 63-53 with 10:10 to go.

His fourth assist came with 1:24 left in regulation, rewarding Williams with a dump pass after a good seal — which made it 84-72.

“I feel like when he’s locked in mentally, he makes good decisions on the floor,” Anthony Smith said after the win. “Whether he’s passing the ball, shooting the ball or whatever he decides to do, when he’s locked in … he can contribute in a major way.”

It’s almost like Carter hadn’t missed any time with his teammates, seamlessly entering the rotation and playing 20 effective minutes.

But he hadn’t suited up for the Racers since a 63-53 Nov. 27 loss to Drake in the Gulf Coast Showcase, due to a broken finger suffered on Nov. 26 in a 69-68 win against Weber State.

“It’s great to have him back,” noted fifth-year MSU coach Matt McMahon after Thursday’s win. “It was going to be great to have him back anyway, but with the foul trouble that we had … that DaQuan (Smith) had to battle … it was certainly nice to have Chico back for us.

“I’m really proud of him. When you miss almost six weeks, there’s still going to be some rust. But I think he worked extremely hard to stay in good physical condition. He ended up playing in some longer spurts than I had anticipated (Thursday) due to some foul trouble. Four assists. One turnover. Thought he really made some electric plays in the open court. Just excited to get him back in the fold, and I think you’ll continue to see his role increase.”

Now with eight appearances and two starts, Carter is shooting 55.3% from the field (21-for-38), 5-for-12 from the arc and 17-for-19 from the chartiy stripe, and owns a solid 25-to-16 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Rabid rebounding

After picking up a plus-12 rebounding differential on Thursday (43-31), Murray State is now fourth in the country in rebounds allowed per game (29), and fifth overall in rebounding margin (10.6).

“We work on rebounding every single day in practice,” said Anthony Smith, who’s now averaging a team-best 7.7 rpg following his 12 boards on Thursday. “Coaches really try to stress to us that we can be one of the best rebounding teams in the country, as long as we make use of our height and our athleticism compared to all the other teams. And we really just try to make that a strong point of our team.”

SEMO Saturday

Next up for the Racers? A 4-10 Southeast Missouri State squad tonight at 7 in the CFSB Center, which opened Ohio Valley Conference play on Thursday with a 78-63 loss at Austin Peay.

Fifth-year Redhawks coach Rick Ray has three starters who have been consistent through all 14 games: 6-foot, 160-pound sophomore guard Alex Caldwell (10.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 39.4% shooting); 6-5, 205-pound redshirt senior guard Skyler Hogan (8.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 41.1% shooting); and 6-8, 210-pound sophomore forward Sage Tolbert (8.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 51.2% shooting) — but has moved 6-4, 205-pound sophomore guard Nygal Russell (3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and former McNeese State and 6-8, 215-pound senior forward Quatarrius Wilson (5.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg) into the starting lineup.

Caldwell (20) and Hogan (19) have combined for 39 3-pointers, and are both shooting north of 34% from behind the arc.

Ray and the Redhawks did get some tough news early in the year, when former John A. Logan standout and redshirt junior guard Chris Harris sustained a season-ending knee injury just two weeks into the regular season. He’d posted back-to-back double-digit scoring efforts and drained a game-winning 3-pointer vs. Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne before getting hurt in practice prior to a Nov. 19 matchup against The Citadel.

“At Drake, a 10-3 team, they led for 38, 39 minutes before Drake was able to sneak the game out at the end,” McMahon said. “I’m sure they’ll be a very talented team, and we’ll have to be ready to go."

Murray State vs. Southeast Missouri State

Time: 7 tonight

Location: Murray, Ky.

Venue: CFSB Center (8,600)

MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (95-47, 5th year)

SEMO Head Coach: Rick Ray (85-150, 8th year, 5th w/ SEMO)

All-Time Series: MSU leads 60-21

Last Met: Feb. 23, 2019 (MSU won 103-67)

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

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

By the Numbers

MSU SEMO

PPG 75.8 64.3

PA 62.5 71.8

FG% 47.2 41.1

FGA% 39.0 45.4

3PT% 35.1 31.0

3PT%D 34.5 35.8

FT% 69.6 66.9

RPG 39.6 33.6

RMAR plus-10.6 minus-3.5

APG 15.1 9.9

TOPG 13.9 14.1

SPG 5.6 6.3

BPG 3.9 1.8

Murray State vs. Southeast Missouri State

Time: 7 tonight

Location: Murray, Ky.

Venue: CFSB Center (8,600)

MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (95-47, 5th year)

SEMO Head Coach: Rick Ray (85-150, 8th year, 5th w/ SEMO)

All-Time Series: MSU leads 60-21

Last Met: Feb. 23, 2019 (MSU won 103-67)

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

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

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