Thursday night at the CFSB Center offered plenty of scares for the Murray State Racers, who nearly saw a perfect start to conference play slip at the hands of an incredibly improved Eastern Illinois Panthers team fighting for an OVC Tournament spot.
At the top of the list, the health of freshman point guard DaQuan Smith – who took a second-half tumble and looked more than haggard with a left-ankle injury.
He’d sit, get taped and eventually return to finish with seven points, three assists and a rebound in 33 minutes, but with freshman point guard Chico Carter Jr. out “indefinitely” with an illness, and another freshman in Noah Kamba prepared – but green – Smith absence changes the rotation in a critical way.
“I thought he’d really hurt himself how he previously did last year,” noted sophomore guard Tevin Brown. “I was just glad to see him come back on the court.”
Added fifth-year MSU coach Matt McMahon: “It was more than a relief. I was scared to death for him. In the reaction, my first thought is ‘he’s probably done for the year.’ I didn’t know what he had done. But he’s a tough kid. So, credit to him for getting over there with trainers and doctors, making sure he was good to go. And I thought he came back in and gave us some big minutes.
“But you see that sometimes, an injury like that, and it’s scary. It kind of took the steam out of our team. And everyone is concerned about him, because he’s one of the favorite guys on the team. His personality, and he’s all about the team, guys really like and respect him. So I thought it was a struggle for us there, to respond after that happened.”
That main “struggle,” as McMahon pointed, came in the rebounding department. Murray State’s calling card all season long, the Panthers destroyed the glass – particularly offensively (22-to-6) – and it nearly became the Racers’ undoing.
“If you would’ve told me, going in – and I’ve got a lot of respect for them offensively, as coach (Jay) Spoonhour runs that motion, they screen you, they cut – but if you would’ve told me that we hold them to 39% from the floor and 23% from three, and then on our offensive end of the floor go 50% from the floor and 39% from three, I thought we would’ve won by 15-to-20,” McMahon described. “But credit to Eastern Illinois for their effort and the attack of the offensive glass. Made it a tight finish.”
Next up for the Racers: a 7 p.m. tip tonight against the SIU Edwardsville Cougars (5-17, 2-7), who – despite the record – possess critical conference wins against Belmont (on the road) and Southeast Missouri (at home), and have lost six conference games by eight points or less (Tennessee Tech, UT Martin, Jacksonville State, Tennessee State, Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State).
First-year Cougars coach Brian Barone brings with him a wealth of assistant coaching experience (Central Florida CC, Garden City CC, Illinois State, Marquette, Indiana, Green Bay, Butler CC, SIUE), and he possess two double-digit scorers in Zeke Moore (50.7% shooting, 13.4 ppg) and Cam Williams (10.7 ppg, 43.1% shooting). Senior guard Tyresse Williford – who nearly toppled the Racers singlehandedly at the Vadalabene Center last season – is averaging 9.7 ppg on 42.6% shooting from the floor.
SIUE, however, is shooting just 44% from the floor and 67.6% from the stripe as a team this season.
Murray State vs. SIU Edwardsville
Time: 7 tonight
Location: Murray, Ky.
Venue: CFSB Center (8,600)
MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (103-47, 5th year)
SIUE Head Coach: Brian Barone (5-17, 1st year)
All-Time Series: MSU leads 21-3
Last Met: Feb. 9, 2019 (MSU won 86-55)
Listen Live: Froggy 103.7 FM (PxP: Neal Bradley, Color: Kenny Roth)
Follow Live: ESPN+, @RacersHoops, @RacerDave23, @dreamarlowe85
By the Numbers
PPG 77.8 67.2
PA 65.2 73.8
FG% 48.7 44.0
FG%D 40.3 44.6
3PT% 36.6 32.1
3PT%D 34.3 35.0
FT% 71.7 67.6
REB 38.0 32.4
RMAR plus-8.2 minus-2.8
APG 15.2 14.1
TOPG 13.4 13.8
SPG 5.3 5.6
BPG 3.6 3.0