MURRAY, Ky. — Jay Spoonhour knew EIU had to drill a hefty number of 3-pointers, and at an efficient clip, to knock off Murray State in its own building.
Sure enough, the Panthers did exactly that.
It didn’t end up mattering, though.
EIU, despite hitting 41.4 percent of its 3s against the nation’s No. 5 3-point percentage defense and building a 71-64 lead with 9:04 left, couldn’t hold on and keep pace to pull the upset. The Panthers lost 86-75 to Murray State Thursday night, dropping to 13-11 and 6-5 in the Ohio Valley.
Josiah Wallace paced EIU with 18 points. Mack Smith added 13 and now has made a 3-pointer in 41 consecutive games.
“Some of the best offense we’ve ran all year,” Wallace said.
Ja Morant and Murray State withstood it, though. Morant had seven second-half assists as Murray State (18-4, 9-2) took off on a 15-0 run in the second half to grab the lead for good. He and Darnell Cowart scored 23 points each. Morant, though, was just 7-for-19 from the field.
The Racers needed only 60 seconds to remedy their seven-point hole, and Morant raised his hand to help. He assisted on a Shaq Buchanan 4-point play with 7:14 left and picked Josiah Wallace’s pocket on the next possession. All told, Murray State closed the game on a 22-4 run to grab the lead for good and escape with a win. Spoonhour, mindful of not letting it slip away, used two timeouts during the Racers’ 15-0 spurt.
Morant capped his team’s surge with a steal of Wallace and a windmill dunk with 31 seconds left.
Nothing about the first six minutes of the game looked like it would yield a competitive 40 minutes. The Racers drilled their first five 3-pointers and took a 19-10 lead about seven minutes in. Morant hit four of them, and assisted on the other. He and Shaq Buchanan strummed away on air guitars as the CFSB Center rocked on.
Then EIU picked itself up and put a scare into the whole place.
It took about four and a half minutes. The Panthers erupted for a 17-0 run, making seven of nine field goals, to go up 27-19, and later pushed their lead to 40-30. They blocked six shots. They played fast, exploited transition mismatches and kept their opponent out of transition.
Murray State, after making its first five 3-pointers, missed its next 10. The Racers scored 10 straight, including four consecutive free throws from Morant on a Flagrant 1 foul, to tie the score at 40 at halftime.
The teams went swing for swing for the first 10 minutes of the second half, with Murray State holding a slight lead and EIU answering every basket. The Panthers did it with a little bit of everything. They made 3s, used back-cuts for layups and drew fouls. Morant remained relatively quiet throughout it, scoring just once in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
EIU briefly separated, beginning with about 10 minutes left. Shareef Smith picked off a Morant pass, leading to a Ben Harvey 3-pointer. Harvey then stole the ball from Darnell Cowart at midcourt, dunked it, drew a foul and earned a passionate chest bump from Rade Kukobat.
*EIU shot 45.2 percent from the floor overall. Murray State was just behind, at 44.6.
*The Racers shot 34.6 percent on 3s.
*EIU assisted on 15 of its 28 field goals.