SIUE Head Coach Lennox Forrester said his team executed their game plan “almost to a T,” but in the end it wasn’t enough to defeat the Racers on their home court Saturday night.
The Racers struggled out of the gate, shooting just 26 percent from the field in the first half and going 0-5 from 3-point range. SIUE took advantage, jumping out to an early 14 point lead. When the teams headed into the locker rooms for halftime, the Racers found themselves trailing by 11 points.
For the second game in a row, Murray State came out of the half firing and posted a much stronger second period.
Improved defense and shooting allowed the Racers to outscore SIUE by 20 in the second half, en route to a 70-61 comeback win.
“In the second half we came together as a team and made shots and it made a difference,” senior guard Stacy Wilson said.
While the shooting improved, Forrester believed it was the turnovers that ultimately led to his team’s downfall in the second half. Murray State turned the ball over 11 times – only four times in the second period – while forcing SIUE to turn it over 22 times.
“Murray State is a team that defends well and I think they really feed off turnovers,” Forrester said. “In the second half we turned the basketball over and they were gone.”
Senior guard Isaiah Canaan set career highs in both assists (9) and steals (7), while scoring a game-high 20 points. Ed Daniel also posted his tenth double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Stacy Wilson and Brandon Garrett also scored double-digit points with 13 and 11 respectively.
First half struggles aren’t unfamiliar to the Racers this season, as they’ve trailed at the half in eight of their 18 games. They have, however, been fairly successful at mounting comebacks, going 6-2 in those eight games where they struggled in the first half.
“We always see that we’re down in the second half and that kind of gets to us,” senior forward Ed Daniel said. “Everybody is kind of emotional in the locker room after the first half. In the second half we just feed off our emotions and come out strong.”
As the Racers won their third straight game Saturday night, they moved to 14-4 on the season and 5-1 in the OVC, earning them the top spot in the Western Division. If the season were to end today, Murray State would earn the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, trailing only Belmont, who remains in first place in the Eastern Division with a perfect 6-0 OVC record.
The Racers now face a tough road trip next week as they will travel to Cookeville, Tenn., to face the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles. They then must travel to Jacksonville, Ala., to play the Jacksonville State Gamecocks before returning home for a big home stand against Austin Peay, first-place Belmont and Tennessee State.
Tipoff against Tennessee Tech is Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Eblen Center in Cookeville, Tenn.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer