MURRAY -- An emotional halftime presentation for the retirement of Ja Morant's No. 12 jersey could've derailed focus and kept Murray State a bit flat.
And when SIU Edwardsville's Iziah James made a game-tying 3-pointer with 12:42 to go, the Cougars -- already winners at Belmont this season -- looked poised to pounce.
But the final three segments belonged emphatically to the Racers, who closed the game on a 28-9 run and came away with an 11th straight win, 74-55, to move to 17-5 and 10-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference.
SIUE went 1-for-17 from the field in the span, a hapless 3-pointer from Kenyon Duling with eight seconds to go the only basket for the Cougars in the stretch.
By the time the smoke had cleared, MSU sophomore forward KJ Williams had 20 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in 30 minutes; sophomore guard Tevin Brown (17 points, four 3-pointers) and senior guard Jaiveon Eaves (14 points, 5-for-12 shooting) navigated four fouls each to stay on the floor; and senior forward Anthony Smith chipped in nine points and 12 rebounds in just 25 minutes.
"We had a lot of foul trouble," noted MSU coach Matt McMahon.
"Didn't know if we were going to have enough to finish the game. But I thought KJ Williams really started to dominate the painted area. Had some nice finishes in the post. But defensively, we went to a halfcourt press, and I thought our guys' effort and energy to fly around and make it difficult for Edwardsville to score was great. Thought we had a lot of multiple-effort defensive possessions.
"And then we finally stopped putting them on the free-throw line, and started limiting them to one shot by cleaning up the defensive glass."
It was a first-half 3-pointer from Williams that admittedly "got him started," and with 2:52 left in regulation, he proverbially blew the roof off the CFSB Center -- catching a halfcourt oop from freshman point guard DaQuan Smith for a monster slam and a 70-49 lead.
"I really just wanted to dominate the game, and just let the game come to me," Williams said.
"Don't worry about missed shots. Just get back on defense. Stop them from scoring. Then get back on offense and execute so I can get shots."
The Cougars nearly got enough from senior guard Tyresse Williford (22 points, 9-for-15 shooting) and his supporting staff, but the Racers controlled SIUE's leading scorer in Zeke Moore -- who went just 1-for-12 from the field and 0-for-4 from the arc, a place where SIUE didn't succeed (5-for-21).
Kamba relieves again
He came away with only two points and one assist, but MSU freshman point guard Noah Kamba had a significant impact in the second half -- playing a key role in the team's press. He went for plus-13 in plus-minus, working as a defensive stopper in McMahon's plans.
"I thought he was really good," McMahon said.
"Williford might be the quickest player in our league. He's terrific. Scored six of their nine baskets in the first half. And I thought he controlled the pace of the game the first 25, 26 minutes.
"But I thought when Noah came in during the second half, he was very disruptive defensively. Helped get them out of rhythm that they were in. I think they scored 20 points in the first seven or eight minutes of the second half. And I thought he was able to change the flow of the game with his efforts defensively."
Murray St. 74, SIUE 55
SIU EDWARDSVILLE (5-18) -- C.Williams 3-10 6-8 12, Williford 9-15 1-2 22, Moore 1-12 2-2 4, Uzuegbunem 1-3 2-2 4, Jackson 0-4 1-2 1, Adewunmi 2-5 0-1 4, S.Wright 1-9 0-0 2, Duling 1-2 0-0 3, L.Wright 0-0 0-0 0, James 1-2 0-0 3, Benton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-62 12-17 55.
MURRAY ST. (17-5) -- D.Smith 3-10 0-0 7, Brown 4-9 5-6 17, K.Williams 8-15 3-4 20, Eaves 5-12 3-3 14, A.Smith 3-5 3-5 9, Kamba 1-1 0-0 2, Gilmore 0-0 1-2 1, Holliday 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 2-3 0-2 4, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-55 15-22 74.
Halftime: Murray St. 35-26. 3-Point Goals: SIU-Edwardsville 5-21 (Williford 3-6, Duling 1-1, James 1-2, Adewunmi 0-1, Jackson 0-1, C.Williams 0-3, S.Wright 0-3, Moore 0-4), Murray St. 7-19 (Brown 4-6, K.Williams 1-2, Eaves 1-5, D.Smith 1-6). Fouled Out: Holliday. Rebounds: SIU-Edwardsville 29 (Uzuegbunem, S.Wright 6), Murray St. 37 (K.Williams 15). Assists_SIU-Edwardsville 6 (Moore, Adewunmi 2), Murray St. 11 (D.Smith 5). Total Fouls: SIU-Edwardsville 20, Murray St. 19. A: 7,512 (8,602).