MURRAY -- Ah, the ol' dogfight.
It took about 30 minutes to shake 'em, but Murray State grabbed a 19-18 series edge on Southern Illinois Tuesday night, topping the Salukis 79-66 at the CFSB Center.
Five Racers -- Tevin Brown (18), Anthony Smith (14), KJ Williams (13), Darnell Cowart (13) and Chico Carter Jr. (13) -- scored in double figures in the win.
Up just 60-56 with 8:20 to go, MSU used a 10-0 run -- two free throws from A. Smith, a dunk from Williams, and six-straight points from Brown (a free throw, a stepback triple and a jumper) -- to create the separation necessary.
From there, SIU would score just 10 points, as Williams returned from the bench and the Racers switched to a sticky zone.
"I think what you saw there was that we were struggling," noted MSU coach Matt McMahon. "They put you in some tough spots with the four-perimeter attack. They were really stretching us out over there with that ballscreen over there on the wing on the opposite of their bench.
"So we needed to change it up a little bit, and we went to our zone-press. And I think our guys did a good job."
After scoring two points with three assists in the first half, Carter provided a true spark in the second half -- where he came away with 11 points on 3-for-3 shooting and 4-for-4 from the charity stripe.
His transition triple came on a scoop pass from Brown, and gave MSU a 42-38 lead with just under 16 minutes to play.
"We've spent a lot of time with him in the last week and half," McMahon said. "I've said all along: Chico's a really good player. I think it's a transition. I don't care if you're the No. 1 player in the country or whatever, it's a transition going from high school to college.
"I think you see him getting more comfortable and more confident. I loved his aggressiveness offensively. And I thought when he was able to get out in transition and attack the basket, those were huge plays. Hit the big-time three in transition to put us up four. I just thought he did a lot of good things. And Southern Illinois mixes their ball-screen coverage there, and I thought Chico made a couple of big-time plays, getting downhill off the dribble and making things happen for us."
Murray State opened the game shooting 0-for-6 in the first five minutes, before a basket from Anthony Smith ended the drought and cut it to a 6-2 deficit.
An Aaron Cook 3-point play (16 points, 5-for-11 shooting) had the Salukis up 15-8 before an 8-0 run -- a Brown 3-pointer, a Williams stepback jumper, a Jason Holliday free throw and a Devin Gilmore steal-and-score -- gave MSU its first lead of the game.
MSU also went 8-for-10 from the field after its 0-for-6 start.
However, the Salukis didn't exactly fade. Triples from Harwin Francois and Eric McGill (4-for-11 shooting, 11 points) kept SIU out front, 24-21, before the Racers closed the half on a 13-4 run. SIU shot 2-for-11 in the span, and was held without a basket for the final 3:02 of the half.
MSU then saw its two-score advantage disappear immediately to start the second stanza. Ronnie Suggs (2-for-11 shooting) scored five of his 10 points on a jumper and a foul from a 3-point attempt, and a dunk from Barret Benson.
SIU also used a 20-second 7-0 run to grab a 45-42 lead with just under 15 minutes to go, answering Carter's transition triple with two free throws from Cook, a Francois triple and another Cook transition layup.
"Their guards are real good," Cowart said. "Two really good guards that attack and really play defense. Really tough on us, but we were able to keep fighting."
S. ILLINOIS (2-4)
Domask 3-9 2-2 8, Benson 4-6 0-1 9, Suggs 2-11 5-5 10, McGill 4-11 2-4 11, Cook 5-11 5-8 16, Gooch 0-0 0-0 0, Dembele 1-2 1-4 3, Jeremic 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Francois 3-5 0-0 9, Tr.Brown 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-57 15-24 66.
MURRAY ST. (3-1)
A.Smith 3-3 8-8 14, Williams 4-11 4-8 13, Te.Brown 5-9 5-6 18, Eaves 1-4 2-2 4, D.Smith 0-4 0-0 0, Gilmore 2-5 0-1 4, Cowart 3-5 6-8 12, Carter 4-7 4-4 13, Holliday 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 22-49 30-39 79.
Halftime: Murray St. 34-28. 3-Point Goals_S. Illinois 7-21 (Francois 3-5, Benson 1-1, Cook 1-2, McGill 1-3, Suggs 1-4, Tr.Brown 0-2, Domask 0-4), Murray St. 5-11 (Te.Brown 3-4, Carter 1-1, Williams 1-3, Eaves 0-1, D.Smith 0-2). Fouled Out: Benson. Rebounds: S. Illinois 29 (Suggs, McGill 6), Murray St. 39 (Williams 10). Assists: S. Illinois 9 (Cook, Domask 3), Murray St. 10 (Carter 3). Total Fouls: S. Illinois 23, Murray St. 18. A: 4,549 (8,602).