While all final lineup decisions and rotations are mulled by the Murray State men's basketball coaching staff and executed by its head coach -- fifth-year veteran Matt McMahon -- it's not uncommon for player considerations to play a factor in who goes where and when.

Two years ago, it was a savvy senior point guard in Jonathan Stark going to McMahon and making a simple nod: that Ja Morant should start as a freshman. He was likely going to, but to hear it from a player leader had an impact on team chemistry. On winning.

This year? It was sophomore forward KJ Williams making a similar suggestion: that Demond Robinson should start as a freshman.

With McMahon and his staff running a three-guard attack alongside a strong senior forward in Anthony Smith, it meant that Williams -- a returning starter after a record-breaking freshman season -- would instead have to come off the bench in a pivotal, unselfish role.

"Demond has played tremendously throughout the season," Williams said. "Plays very hard. Has a high motor. Helps us on the defensive and offensive end, getting offensive boards and defensive rebounds and blocks.

"And with me coming off the bench, that brings more points off the bench, provides extra help and helps the team win."

It's worked, and it's one of the key reasons Murray State is riding an 11-game winning streak.

The Racers are 13-1 since Robinson entered the starting rotation against Middle Tennessee State, the lone defeat coming in an epic overtime road loss against Evansville in the Ford Center.

And as a team, he keeps being fed confidence. He's with Smith "24-7" both off and on the court, and in his 14 consecutive starts, he's made MSU's first basket in six of the last seven games, and in eight of the 14.

"I'm actually (Smith's) little brother," Robinson said. "We always play and fight a lot. We just have a bond that no one can break. And he's helped develop me … in the gym, all summer leading up to now. Every game that we go in, we get some shots in, and we just play as hard together as we can."

In this 10-game conference stretch, Robinson is putting up 6.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in nearly 16 minutes of action -- getting most of his stat-stuffing done in the first four minutes of each half behind 51% shooting.

Williams, meanwhile, has turned into MSU's second-leading scorer behind sophomore standout Tevin Brown -- averaging 15.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and is shooting 58.3% from the floor, 75.7% from the stripe and 35.3% from the arc. And all in around 24 or so "bench" minutes.

"I think, if anything, it helped relax him a little bit," McMahon notes of Williams' suggestion. "He's playing with a lot of confidence coming off the bench. I say it all the time, but I could care less who starts. I think we need contributions from everybody, and he's been fantastic.

"I thought on Thursday (against Eastern Illinois), we kind of got on to him. He had 14 points and nine rebounds, and I didn't think he played very well, and I thought his response was awesome. Scored 20 and 15. Really controlled the painted area for 40 minutes on Saturday night (against SIU Edwardsville)."

1938

For a third-straight season, Murray State is toting a double-digit winning streak -- something that hasn't happened in the program since the conclusion of the 1937-38 season.

"It's pretty cool," McMahon said. "I didn't know that (until) one of our assistants told me the other day. Here at Murray State, it's hard to create history, because so many great things have been done over so many years. To hear a stat like that -- to have three-straight years of double-digit winning streaks that hadn't been done since the late '30s -- is a pretty cool deal, and a great credit to our players, our assistant coaches and their game preparation and practice preparation."

Belmont, Part II

And that winning streak will be put to the ultimate test against Belmont (16-7, 7-3 Ohio Valley) at 6:30 tonight in Nashville's Curb Center -- a place where the Racers haven't grabbed a win since the Bruins entered the OVC prior to the 2012-13 season.

First-year coach Casey Alexander is going to roll with his typical five -- Nick Muszynski, Tyler Scanlon, Grayson Murphy, Michael Benkert and Adam Kunkel -- and McMahon is expecting another matchup similar to MSU's 85-75 win on Jan. 23, in which the Racers had to avert a late nine-point deficit with hot 3-point shooting and critical free throws in the final two minutes.

"I think sometimes they just get labeled as an offensive team, which I think is false," McMahon said. "They've been No. 1 in our league in defensive statistics -- the ones that matter the most -- all season long. And I've also thought that all they are is a '3-point shooting team' is also false. They've been top 10 in the country in 2-point percentage for years. They have great balance, and you have to prepare for everything.

"I thought that was a big key for us being able to win the first matchup. We had five guys in double figures. We had good inside-outside balance, and I think that will be important again on Thursday."

Murray State vs. Belmont

Time: 6:30 tonight

Location: Nashville, Tenn.

Venue: Curb Center (5,085)

MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (104-47, 5th year)

BU Head Coach: Casey Alexander (139-121, 9th year, 1st w/ Belmont)

All-time Series: MSU leads 10-8

Last Met: Jan. 23, 2020 (MSU won 85-75)

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

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

By the Numbers

MSU BU

PPG 77.6 81.5

PA 64.8 69.1

FG% 48.7 47.6

FG%D 39.8 41.4

3PT% 36.6 36.3

3PT%D 33.8 32.0

FT% 71.5 71.3

REB 38.2 39.0

RMAR plus-8.2 plus-2.3

APG 15.0 19.0

TOPG 13.5 12.4

SPG 5.2 6.9

BPG 3.8 3.3

Murray State vs. Belmont

Time: 6:30 tonight

Location: Nashville, Tenn.

Venue: Curb Center (5,085)

MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (104-47, 5th year)

BU Head Coach: Casey Alexander (139-121, 9th year, 1st w/ Belmont)

All-time Series: MSU leads 10-8

Last Met: Jan. 23, 2020 (MSU won 85-75)

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

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

By the Numbers

MSU BU

PPG 77.6 81.5

PA 64.8 69.1

FG% 48.7 47.6

FG%D 39.8 41.4

3PT% 36.6 36.3

3PT%D 33.8 32.0

FT% 71.5 71.3

REB 38.2 39.0

RMAR plus-8.2 plus-2.3

APG 15.0 19.0

TOPG 13.5 12.4

SPG 5.2 6.9

BPG 3.8 3.3

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