MURRAY -- An 18-point lead had its precarious moments, but Murray State opened the 2020 Ohio Valley Conference slate with an 89-76 win over UT Martin on Thursday night at the CFSB Center.
At the forefront? The Racers' nearly-flawless 3-point shooting, as sophomore Tevin Brown (23 points, seven rebounds) went 4-for-6 from behind the arc, and senior guard Jaiveon Eaves (19 points, four rebounds) returned to the starting lineup and went 4-for-4 from deep.
By halftime, MSU led 48-33 after going 7-for-10 against the statistically-worst 3-point defense in the country.
And by the end of regulation, the Racers would be 10-for-15 from the arc, with point guards DaQuan Smith and Chico Carter each canning a 3-pointer in the victory.
"I really believe in our shooters," noted MSU coach Matt McMahon. "I think we have great shooting on the perimeter. I hope they take some confidence from their performance tonight, and I think - what you saw - was a really nice job of recognizing the defenses that Martin was playing, and making some extra passes. Maybe passed up some good shots to get some great shots, and guys stepped up and knocked them down."
UT Martin, however, would eventually trim its double-digit deficit to just six points twice in the second half, courtesy of some 2-2-1 full-court pressure. MSU would commit six of its 18 turnovers in the first six minutes of the second half, and the Skyhawks would cut it to 54-48 on a triple from Eman Sertovic, and a Parker Stewart triple (three of his game-high 33 points) would later cut it to 59-53.
Stewart had 25 second-half points, which was "no fluke," as he nearly willed UT Martin to a lead.
"It was just one of those cases of good offense beating good defense," McMahon added. "He goes for 33 and hit five 3-pointers in the second half, with the majority contested."
Smith, Williams stellar
While Brown and Eaves were busy bombing away, it was senior forward Anthony Smith and sophomore forward KJ Williams bruising under the basket.
Smith finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, three blocks and just one turnover, while Williams played 22:49 in relief with 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists with no turnovers.
"I thought it was a loud 17-and-12," McMahon said. "I thought he played with unbelievable energy and effort. He chased every rebound out there on the floor. I thought a really key stretch was they had cut the lead to eight at the 7-minute mark, and they had gone to a four-guard attack. That put a smaller guy on Anthony, and we came out of that media timeout, and the team really executed well. Anthony got a nice post up, and on the next possession he got fouled and made both free throws.
"And I think taking that lead there from eight to 12 at the six-minute mark was a huge, huge turn of events for us to get the momentum back and be able to finish the game."
Added Smith: "I'm not trying to rush anything. I just see the open spots on the floor. Whenever they try to over-commit to us, it's going to open up the floor."
Out since the Drake loss with a broken finger, Carter returned with just over 10 minutes left in the first half and certainly contributed: five points, four assists and just one turnover in the win.
His second-half 3-pointer gave MSU a 63-53 lead over UT Martin.
"He brings a big lift, I feel, because he's a good point guard with vision who likes to push the ball," Brown said. "And when he's in, we don't have to always stop and set the ball up, because when he gets it, he's going to go and we just need to run our lanes."
UT MARTIN (4-8) -- Hawthorne 3-13 5-6 12, Stewart 9-20 10-10 33, Sertovic 4-8 0-0 11, Dove 4-9 5-7 14, M.Thomas 0-4 1-2 1, Polla 2-4 0-0 4, Rustin 0-0 1-2 1, Pierce 0-0 0-0 0, Aguiar 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-59 22-27 76.
MURRAY ST. (8-5) -- A.Smith 5-7 7-13 17, Brown 7-10 5-8 23, Eaves 6-11 3-3 19, K.Williams 6-9 0-2 12, Carter 2-5 0-0 5, D.Smith 1-5 0-0 3, Robinson 3-8 2-4 8, Holliday 0-0 0-0 0, Gilmore 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 31-56 17-30 89.
Halftime: Murray St. 48-33. 3-Point Goals: UT Martin 10-27 (Stewart 5-12, Sertovic 3-7, Dove 1-2, Hawthorne 1-4, M.Thomas 0-2), Murray St. 10-15 (Eaves 4-4, Brown 4-6, Carter 1-2, D.Smith 1-2, K.Williams 0-1). Fouled Out: D.Smith. Rebounds: UT Martin 27 (Hawthorne 7), Murray St. 41 (A.Smith 12). Assists: UT Martin 8 (Stewart 4), Murray St. 17 (Carter 4). Total Fouls: UT Martin 23, Murray St. 26. A: 3,314 (8,602).