MURRAY -- Moving to 9-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play with a 10th straight win usually brings more joy to a basketball team.
But on Thursday night at the CFSB Center, Murray State was just glad to escape.
Sophomore guard Tevin Brown had 24 points and four 3-pointers, sophomore forward KJ Williams capped a 14-point, nine-rebound performance with a late steal and offensive putback, and the Racers denied Josiah Wallace's game-tying 3-point attempt to stave off Eastern Illinois, 73-70.
The Panthers (11-10, 4-5 OVC) erased a 16-point second-half deficit courtesy of an uncanny offensive rebounding clinic against the Racers -- 22-to-6 and for 23 second-chance points.
But MSU's first-shot defense, and sometimes second-shot defense, was intrepid, as the Panthers were 28-for-71 from the floor (39.4%) and 4-for-17 from the arc (23.5%).
"I thought our (defensive) effort was outstanding," noted fifth-year MSU coach Matt McMahon. "You have to be very disciplined defensively, and Josiah Wallace is all-league for a reason. Mack Smith (4-for-15) has been a three-year starter there and had a great impact on their program. Think you saw George Dixon (10 points, 15 boards), what he's brought to EIU and their frontcourt. He's been playing terrific the last four or five games. Numbers off the charts. So I thought our defense was awesome, until the release of the shot.
"And then, we turned and watched and hoped it would fall in our lap. And rebounds don't work like that. Those rebounds go to whoever wants them the most. And just from my first glance watching it live, I thought EIU wanted those rebounds a lot more than we did."
Of his 24 points, Brown scored 13 of the team's 15 points in a pivotal 15-6 run, including 10 straight points to cut it to a 20-19 deficit.
Back-to-back 3-pointers early in the second half from Brown had the Racers up 44-30, and nearly coasting before EIU's comeback efforts.
"Every play we run has multiple options," Brown noted. "But if I'm open, I'm going to shoot the ball. That's what coach has me doing. If it's there, I'm going to shoot it. If it's not, we're going to another option."
Brown went 6-for-9 from the charity stripe, but missed three of his last four, allowing for EIU to play for the tie.
MSU point depth tested
With freshman point guard Chico Carter Jr. out "indefinitely" (but should return) due to illness, and DaQuan Smith shaking off a second-half ankle injury, freshman point guard Noah Kamba saw 6:42 and came away with a lead-grabbing layup (21-20), an assist and just one turnover.
Smith, meanwhile, had his left ankle taped and returned after sitting for two minutes.
"I thought he did a good job," McMahon said. "I'm a big believer in you play the way you practice. I thought he had a great week of practice. Sense of urgency was better. Thought he really used his quickness and speed. Thought he had three good days, and I thought it carried over into tonight."
Murray St. 73, EIU 70
E. ILLINOIS (11-10) -- Wallace 9-22 6-6 24, Mac.Smith 4-15 0-0 10, Dixon 5-12 0-4 10, S.Smith 2-5 0-0 5, Matlock 3-6 0-0 7, Johnson 3-7 2-3 8, Skipper-Brown 2-3 2-2 6, Charles 0-0 0-0 0, Duffus 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-71 10-15 70.
MURRAY ST. (16-5) -- Brown 7-15 6-9 24, A.Smith 0-2 6-6 6, D.Smith 3-9 0-0 7, Eaves 2-8 2-2 7, Robinson 4-4 2-4 10, Williams 6-7 2-2 14, Holliday 1-2 0-0 3, Kamba 1-1 0-0 2, Gilmore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-48 18-23 73.
Halftime: Murray St. 32-27. 3-Point Goals: E. Illinois 4-17 (Mac.Smith 2-9, Matlock 1-2, S.Smith 1-3, Wallace 0-3), Murray St. 7-18 (Brown 4-9, Holliday 1-2, D.Smith 1-3, Eaves 1-4). Rebounds: E. Illinois 41 (Dixon 15), Murray St. 27 (Williams 9). Assists: E. Illinois 7 (Wallace 2), Murray St. 9 (Brown 3). Total Fouls: E. Illinois 15, Murray St. 14. A: 4,530 (8,602).