Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor
In the Racers’ first game back since the holiday break, freshman guard Ja Morant made sure to give Murray State fans the ultimate belated Christmas present in their conference-opener against Eastern Illinois.
While Murray State basketball claimed a 80-52 win in commanding fashion, all eyes were on Morant, whose 11 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds marked only the second time in Murray State history that a player has recorded a triple-double and tied him third all-time in single-game assists.
Morant accrued the nearly unprecedented accolade with just over two minutes to play in the second half. The freshman guard, enlivened by the raucous cheers from his teammates sitting courtside, hauled in a defensive rebound and drove the length of the court before being fouled and nailing two free throws to improve his point total to 11 and his rebound total to 10, solidifying a historic triple-double effort in just his 12th career game.
Head Coach Matt McMahon was unaware Morant was nearing triple-double territory, and went to sub him out late in the game, but junior guard Shaq Buchanan made a selfless sacrifice to allow his teammate to make history.
“We were in the huddle and coach was about to sub him out and everybody yelled at him and said [Morant] needed one more rebound and one more point,” Buchanan said. “So I was in the game, and I told coach to keep him in for me, and he went and got it.”
His first career triple-double came just days after nearly recording one in the Racers’ game against Detroit-Mercy. In that game, Morant came just short of the mark, recording 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Morant didn’t come into the game with the desire to finish where he left of, but he said he was humbled to be in such elite company.
“It’s an honor,” Morant said. “To be the second with a tradition like Murray State, that’s big. I’m excited.”
Morant’s performance encapsulated what was a collective performance from the Racers, as four players recorded double-digit scoring on the night. Senior guard Jonathan Stark accrued a team-high 21 points, junior guard Shaq Buchanan added 15 and senior forward Terrell Miller and Morant contributed 11.
The Racers were able to hold the Panthers to 28.6 percent shooting in the game – a season best – all while out-rebounding their conference foe 52-32. Murray State has won the rebounding battle in all nine of its wins this season.
“We knew [rebounding] would be a really big key,” McMahon said. “If you look at Eastern Illinois by the numbers, they do a really nice job getting to the offensive glass.
The team will have a quick turnaround before hosting their next conference opponent in Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (4-8) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 30 at the CFSB Center.