King leads MTSU past Racers

Photo by Bryan Edwards/ TheNews

Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor

Murray State’s men’s basketball team’s attempt to avenge their 2016 loss to Middle Tennessee State was to no avail, as the Racers fell 72-67.

A raucous crowd of Racer faithful – and even NBA scouts – watched upon Monday’s game with nervous excitement as the game came down to one final shot.

Murray State, trailing by three with just over 20 seconds left in the game, put their fate in the hands of the man notorious for his late-game heroics, senior guard Jonathan Stark. Stark caught the inbounds pass, maneuvered through a swarm of MTSU defenders and hoisted a shot to keep the Racers’ hopes alive.

However, this time luck wasn’t on the Racers’ side, as a missed shot and two Blue Raiders’ free throws sealed the game at 72-67and helped MTSU move to 2-0 on their season. Stark said he could’ve given his team a better look on the Racers’ final play.

“It was a bad decision on my part,” Stark said. “I’ve got to get a better shot and a better look at the rim.”

The game felt more like a heavyweight bout, as the two teams traded sequential blows. Seven lead changes, 11 ties and a lead no bigger than six for either side made for a thrilling contest that was ultimately decided by one Blue Raider player.

Senior forward Nick King’s 31 points and five rebounds relieved a Middle Tennessee State offense that otherwise struggled. Players not named King shot 13-of-41 from the field, with the next-highest scoring effort coming from senior forward Brandon Walters’ nine points. Head Coach Matt McMahon said King’s valiant effort was the difference-maker on Monday.

“He was the player of the game; he was terrific,” McMahon said. “He’s a matchup nightmare because he’s a skilled player. Got to give credit to Middle, they’ve taken some of these guys from high-major schools, where they were quote ‘three men,’ or ‘wing-type players,’ and they bring them in and they become matchup nightmares at the four and we just really struggle to guard him off the dribble.”

Murray State, however, led a more balanced attack, with Stark, senior forward Terrell Miller and freshman guard Ja Morant all notching double-digit performances. Morant’s 16 points, six rebounds and five assists led the Racer offense.

Middle Tennessee State grabbed 38 rebounds, as opposed to Murray State’s 29 to help them clinch the tight win.

Despite the loss, McMahon remained resolute in his team’s abilities after the loss to a Blue Raider team ranked No. 34 in the country in the RPI.

“Disappointed offensively in the second half,” McMahon said. “We tried to hit a lot of home run plays. We took some tough two’s off the dribble and had 10 or 11 turnovers there that really hurt us in the second half. Disappointed in the loss, but I couldn’t be more excited about our team.”

The Racers will look to bounce-back against a formidable Wright State team that beat Murray State last year 77-62. The game tips off at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18, in Dayton, Ohio.