CHARLESTON -- Eastern Illinois men's basketball team lost to Murray State, a team that entered Thursday's Ohio Valley Conference game tied with Belmont for first place, by 28 the first time the two teams played back in December. Thursday it was a lot closer, but the Racers still came out on top 76-66 at Lantz Arena.
The Panthers, who fell to 10-18 overall and 6-11 in the conference, trailed by as much a 16 with 13:25 left, 56-40 on a three-pointer by Jonathan Stark. EIU battled to within six on three different occasions with the last one being 62-56 with 5:21 left, but could not get closer.
"The second half looked more like we needed the whole game to look like," said EIU coach Jay Spoonhour. "It was more uglier and more disjointed and that was probably what we needed it to look like. The start of the game was just to fast. There was not enough guarding. Overall the rebounds are even, but when we needed stops and a rebound."
The Panthers started the second half 1-for-10 from the field and finished 39 percent overall to the Racers 44.8 percent.
"The start of the second half got us in a bad situation," said Montell Goodwin of EIU. "We could not get in a flow, but we picked up on defense."
Eastern got off to a hot start starting with a dunk as the 30 second clock was winding down by Muusa Dama. The Panthers made 6-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 from beyond the three-point line against the Racers man-to-man defense. EIU took what would be its largest lead of the game, 16-11 on a three-pointer by Montell Goodwin. Goodwin's three-pointer occurred after a three-pointer by Mack Smith.
"It just felt pretty fun at the start, but it was frustrating because they kept making their shots also," said Goodwin. "When we started missing they kept making their shots."
The game was deadlocked five times in the first half and Murray State took the lead after Terrell Miller Jr. tied the game on a pair of free throws and hit a three-pointer for a 23-20 Racer lead with 11:38 left in the half.
Murray State, 23-5 overall and 15-2 in the OVC, had four steals in the first half and that was all of the Panther turnovers. Two of the steals led to baskets.
The Racers took a 39-31 lead on an alley-oop to Shaq Buchanan. Miller's three-pointer and a dunk by Bryon Hawkins on a feed from Ja Morant gave Murray State a 44-33 lead. The first half scoring ended with a three-pointer by Goodwin.
"You have to pick who you are helping off with those guys and I thought when Ja Morant makes two three-pointers it was a huge deal and Shaq Buchanan's three was a big deal in the first half," said Spoonhour. "When you get down to it you take out two possessions and we outrebounded them because they got about seven in two possessions."
Murray State outrebounded EIU 39-35.
Three-point shooting helped the Racers have the eight point lead at the half, hitting 9-of-17 (.529) from behind the three-point line. Murray State also had the edge on fastbreak points, 10-3.
"Murray State just kept capitalizing when we missed shots," said Goodwin. "They kept their energy up."
Smith led the Panthers with 17 at the break, while Goodwin had 11.
Miller led Murray State with 16 at the half and finished with a team-high 20 points.
The Panthers were led in scoring by Smith with 22 points, while Montell Goodwin had 16 and Ray Crossland had 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Murray State has won 10 straight games with the last loss being Jan. 18 to Belmont on the road 79-72. The two are batting for first place in the conference as both were 14-2 entering Thursday's games.
EIU is to play host to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at 3:15 p.m. in the final regular season game. SIUE will be playing for an OVC Tournament spot along with a chance to move into the No. 7 seed in the tournament over EIU, which is already qualified for the OVC Tournament.