Impressive first half not enough to top Billikens

Photo by Bryan Edwards/TheNews

Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor

If the first half served as any indication of a game’s final result, Murray State basketball would’ve been deemed the victor in its bout against Saint Louis University.

Unfortunately for the impressive crowd of Racer faithful who made the three-hour commute to St. Louis, Missouri – it wasn’t. The Billikens overcame the Racers 69-55 on Tuesday in a game Murray State controlled early.

The Racers broke out to a 16-3 run early in the first half, but Saint Louis didn’t roll over. They quelled Murray State’s hot spell, holding them without a field goal for nearly nine minutes in the first half. The Atlantic 10 Conference opponent rallied on the offensive end to cut the game to three before the halftime buzzer sounded.

That late momentum by the Billikens helped drive a second half run that was instrumental in their double-digit victory. Two consecutive threes from senior guard Davell Roby gave the Billikens their first lead of the game, and from then on they didn’t look back. Saint Louis outscored the Racers 41-24 and out-rebounded them 43-39 in a strong second half display that helped them improve to 5-5 on the year.

Head Coach Matt McMahon said Saint Louis’ length and defensive adjustments deterred the Racers’ from their ideal attack in the loss.

“They’re a very good defensive team,” McMahon said. “They’re a very physical team, they’re big at every position, especially on the perimeter. I thought that them spreading out into that 3-2 zone really stretched us further than we would’ve liked and we weren’t able to get the ball into the high post like we were on Saturday at Illinois State.”

Senior guard Jonathan Stark led the way with 18 points while junior guard Shaq Buchanan added 11 points. Freshman guard Ja Morant recorded a double-double in the game with 10 points, 12 rebounds and even added six assists. Senior forward Terrell Miller, who leads the Racers in scoring with 17.3 PPG, only managed eight points due to early foul trouble.

While Murray State entered the game with four players averaging double figures, it was Saint Louis who strung together the all-around effort. Junior forward Javon Bess recorded 20 points, freshman forward Hasahn French scored 16 points and added nine rebounds and senior guard Davell Roby recorded 12 points. Sophomore forward skied for 14 rebounds and contributed 10 points to cap a double-double display.

The Billikens, who had lost five of their previous six games, snapped the Racers’ five-game winning streak which marked their best program start since the 2013-2014 basketball season. Murray State will look to rebound when they meet Marist College at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16 at the CFSB Center. McMahon said his team will need to be prepared for anything in Saturday’s matchup.

“We can’t let one loss turn into two,” he said. “We’ll have to be ready to roll. I’m sure we’ll see some multiple defenses from them and at our defensive end, we will have make some improvements there as well.”