Even though the first half wasn’t pretty, Murray State ended the night with its 22nd consecutive victory.
Junior guard Isaiah Canaan scored 24 of his 32 points in the second half and the No. 10 Racers remained unbeaten with an 81-73 win over Southeast Missouri State on Thursday night.
Senior guard Jewuan Long added 13 points for Murray State (22-0, 10-0), which is off to the best start by an Ohio Valley Conference team since Western Kentucky opened 21-0 in 1953-54.
“Isaiah Canaan is a special player,” said SEMO coach Dickey Nutt. “Special players step up in special games and that’s what he did. He hit big shots when the game was on the line, especially contested and also from very deep range, so I have to give him credit for that.”
Marcus Brister had 17 points and eight rebounds for the Redhawks (12-10, 7-3), the last team to hand Murray State a regular-season OVC loss when it beat the Racers 64-57 last February and disrupted their winning streak. SEMO hoped history would repeat itself but fortunately for the Racers, it did not.
The lead changed hands three times in the first half and Murray State trailed the Redhawks 39-33 at the break. Murray State took the lead for good less than 10 minutes into the second half.
SEMO forced 14 turnovers and outscored the Racers 44-24 in the paint, but Murray State outrebounded the Redhawks 43-34.
With the Redhawks leading 46-40 and 15:38 to go, Long took an elbow to the chin from SE Missouri’s Marland Smith. A minute later, after two missed layups and a jumper, senior forward Ivan Aska ran down the court, shared a look with Canaan and said, “Let’s go bro.” Ten seconds later, Canaan connected with his second 3 in a row.
“I knew (Canaan) had a slow start in the first half and we was down a little bit in the first half and the second half but I knew he was going to come along soon so I wasn’t worried at all,” Long said. “We’ve seen it too many times and I had faith he was going to come through.”
After three Donte Poole free throws, Canaan sank another 3-pointer with 13 minutes to go.
“They (teammates) stay on me all the time for situations like these so when they come down to games like these and you see all the great numbers, I try to give them all the credit because they prepared me for situations like this to go out and do things like this,” Canaan said. “Ivan and the rest of the teammates were just saying, ‘let’s go’ and it went on from there and I started knocking down a few shots and we started getting aggressive in the defense like we should have been in the first half and things turned out for the best.”
Aska added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Racers, and his dunk with 1:58 to go gave the team a 12-point lead – its largest of the game.
Murray State trailed by as many as 11 in the first half, but coach Steve Prohm never called a timeout.
“I get a $200 bonus for every timeout I leave up there,” Prohm joked. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in these guys because they’ve got great character and they’ve got great toughness. I’m not a yeller and a screamer, I learned from coach (Billy) Kennedy to be even-keeled because they’re going to respond how I respond and that’s what I believe in my gut and my heart and we haven’t lost our composure.”
The two teams meet again in Cape Girardeau on Feb. 15.
“We’ll meet them again in another week and a half,” Brister said. “We want them to (still be undefeated) then and we’re cheering for them, until that night, 7 p.m. at the Show Me Center. Then it’s Senior Night and I’m looking forward to it. That’ll be me and Leon (Powell)’s last home game – can’t wait.”
Prohm and company remain unfazed.
“We’re just going to keep doing the same thing we’re doing,” the coach said. “Preach to these guys everyday about being humble and handling themselves with great humility and they’ve done that at the highest level. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”