Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor
It may’ve just been an exhibition game, but don’t tell freshman guard Ja Morant that.
Morant exploded in Murray State’s exhibition matchup against McKendree University, recording 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead the Racers to a 98-82 win. Junior guard Shaq Buchanan also pitched in a solid 19-point performance in his first game in a Racer uniform.
Morant’s near double-double performance proved to be a strong breakout showing for the newcomer, but he said it was completely inadvertent.
“We were just playing our game,” Morant said. “It wasn’t in my mind to be the leading scorer or anything, the players just got me open a lot and got me good shots.”
All-OVC Preseason selections, senior guard Jonathan Stark and senior forward Terrell Miller pitched in with 15 points of their own, with Miller and junior forward Brion Sanchious skying high for eight boards a piece.
Even in the loss, McKendree was able to put up 82 points off of a 53.1 percent second half field goal percentage. Sophomore center Nolan Gerling broke out in the second half, scoring 18 of his team-high 24 points while grabbing nine rebounds.
Stark, who directed the offense at point guard all last season, started the game at two-guard instead, although Head Coach Matt McMahon interchanged Morant and Stark at the point guard spot throughout the game. McMahon said the position shift wasn’t reflective of any drastic change in the offense, he was simply adjusting the lineup to reflect his three-guard rotation.
“It’s not necessarily moving Jonathan to the two, it’s more just playing with multiple point guards,” McMahon said. “Either guy can fulfill either role there.”
Morant said he found out he would be commanding the point guard spot in practice not long before the game against the Bearcats. He said he was promised a prominent role in the offense prior to his commitment with Murray State, yet he didn’t expect it to come this early.
“They told me I would play a lot and play a big role,” Morant said. “I didn’t know I would play that much.”
As the Racers move on from their exhibition matchup and prepare to enter the thick of their non-conference schedule, they will have a lengthy eight-day hiatus before officially opening their season at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 10, at the CFSB Center. Because of the gap, McMahon said the coming days will be pivotal for his team.
“This is a big week for us, not playing for another eight days,” McMahon said. “Once we get going Friday, there’s going to be a lot of two-game weeks for really the rest of the season. So this is going to be an important week of practice for us.”