With the combined efforts of three players scoring double digits, one double-double and 50 percent in 3-point shooting, the Racers took their second OVC victory at home against Eastern Illinois.
It was a personal best night for junior forward Jessica Winfrey when she earned a double-double in the final minutes of the second half as well as breaking her record for the most 3-point shots made in one game with two baskets.
“It feels great (to have a game like this),” Winfrey said. “ I feel like it’s been tough for me to work in getting myself back together with my rebounding and scoring being out, but it’s starting to get there.”
Led by senior guard Tessa Elkins with 17 points, two assists and seven rebounds, the Racers combined efforts to dominate beyond the arc.
“Tonight I felt like I was staying in my shot a little more,” Elkins said. “I feel like sometimes I fade out or I go to the side or I fade back when I feel like I don’t have enough lift on it. Tonight, I just stayed on it and my teammates were finding me the ball in transition. I was just feeling it.”
The Racers came out sluggish in the first half against an aggressive zone defense executed by the Panthers. Forced to make long shots, it was a struggle in the first minutes for Murray State to penetrate and make plays under the rim. Eastern Illinois held the Racers at 12 turnovers shot for 42.9 percent.
The moment was short lived when the Racers adapted with strong cuts in the defense and making shot for shot. Both teams fought to stay on top of the other, with six changes in the lead at the half.
Down by six at one point in the game, the Racers quickly dug out of the deficit with an 8-0 run and a 3-point corner shot by Sisk with 7:04 left in the half. Revitalized by the drive, Murray State extended the lead to finish with a four-point lead by the end of the half where they shot for 51.7 percent.
“We did a much better job in the second half especially down the stretch,” Head Coach Rob Cross said. “We ended up outrebounding them and that’s a major key to the game.”
Moving into the second half, Eastern Illinois quickly shrank the deficit to tie the game with a jump shot by guard Ta’Kenya Nixon and three personal fouls by the Racers at the 16:49 mark to put the Panthers at the line.
The game stayed tied as Murray State suffered a two-minute scoring draught, eventually broken by senior guard Mariah Robinson with a side court field goal. Forced to maintain a chance for the win, both teams faced foul trouble as the tempo grew more aggressive to break the close game.
“Mariah was kind of slow getting started tonight,” Cross said. “But once she started, she was able to knock down some shots.”
Energy levels skyrocketed for the Racers, desperate to change the scoreboard and put the pressure on the Panthers. Shooting for 53 percent beyond the arc with the combined efforts of Robinson and senior guard Tessa Elkins, the Racers regained the lead in big steps.
Put in the bonus with just 42 seconds to go, it was only a matter of time before the Racers could claim their second OVC victory at home. The game ended with a comfortable 68-58 victory for Murray State.
The Racers will see action again at 2 p.m. on Jan. 26 in Jacksonville, Ala. against Jacksonville State.
Story by Carly Besser, Staff writer.