Strong second half pushes Racers over SIUE

Jenny Rohl/The News

Story by Bryan Edwards, Staff writer

Following their 44-point win over Austin Peay, the Murray State basketball team welcomed SIUE to the bank for an OVC Western division matchup.

The Racers welcomed back former point guard and current Oklahoma City Thunder guard Cameron Payne back to the CFSB Center. Payne is visiting Murray State while the NBA is currently on break for the All-Star Game.

Senior guard Damarcus Croaker shoulders past SIUE defender.

Jenny Rohl/The News

Head Coach Matt McMahon was happy to see Payne make a visit back to his former school.

“It’s awesome to see him back, and it shows how much Murray State means to him,” McMahon said. “This program means a lot to him, he’s a great ambassador for our basketball team and Murray, Kentucky.”

Junior guard Jonathan Stark scored 19 points in the second half for the Racers as they defeated SIUE 84-73 at the CFSB Center.

Stark said that his teammates did a great job passing and getting him open throughout the game.

“I was able to knock down open shots,” Stark said. “My teammates were able to find me, and I was able to knock them down.”

McMahon said his team played very well in the second half. The Racers outscored the Cougars by nine at the half and were able to increase their lead to as much as 20 in the game.

“I was very pleased with how we responded in the second half of the game,” McMahon said. “Our defense picked up, and we did a better job of getting defensive rebounds and getting some transition baskets.”

Following a 62-point effort in the paint against Austin Peay, the Racers put up another solid effort down low, finishing with 34 points as a team.

McMahon said that the post players played a great game on both sides of the ball and have been improving their play as the season continues.

“Our inside game has gotten better every game,” McMahon said. “I thought all of our guys played great tonight. Brion Sanchious was able to play well defensively on Jalen Henry, who is a double-digit guy for SIUE, and he held him to two points on 1-of-5 shooting.”

The Racers opened the second half on a 14-3 run after going into the half with a 38-35 lead. Stark and senior guard Damarcus Croaker scored all 14 points in the run for the Racers.

Junior forward Terrell Miller Jr. said McMahon wanted his team to come out aggressive in the second half.

“Coach told us not to let them sneak up on us,” Miller said. “He knew they weren’t going to give up, and he told us to stay aggressive and finish.”

The Racers shot 56 percent from behind the three-point line in the game, with Stark leading the way, shooting 6-of-7 from three in the game.

Miller recorded 18 points in the contest, also notching a double-double with 13 rebounds in the game.

The win puts the Racers back over .500 at 14-13 on the season. The Racers are also sitting at 8-5 in the OVC West, putting them in a tie with Tennessee Martin for the division lead.

The Racers hit the court again for their final home game of the season at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18 against the Eastern Illinois Panthers in the CFSB Center.