Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor
Senior guard Jonathan Stark continued his string of inspired performances with a season-high of 36 points to carry Murray State basketball to a 89-73 win over Southeast Missouri State.
The Racers pummelled the Redhawks to improve to 3-0 in OVC play and 11-3 overall. Murray State now sits atop the conference, tied with Belmont and Austin Peay. An impressive 28 of Stark’s 36 points came in the second half, with an unblemished 14-of-14 shooting performance from the free throw line that allowed him to solidify the record for most-consecutive free throws made in Murray State history with 39.
Stark said he knew he was close to the record, but he didn’t make a concerted effort to break it in Thursday night’s game.
“I knew before the game that the record was kind of close, but I didn’t pay attention to it; I didn’t know exactly what the record was,” Stark said. “My main focus was to get up there and keep knocking the free throws down, and that’s what I did.”
While the Racers managed to win the game handily, the first half was a tightly-contested affair. Murray State found itself locked at 29 with SEMO with just four minutes remaining in the first half, but the Racers strung together a 16-5 scoring run to close out the half with a 45-34 lead.
The second half belonged to the Racers, who found themselves up by as much as 22 en route to their commanding conference win.
“I thought it was a really good win,” Head Coach Matt McMahon said. “I thought our guys made some nice adjustments defensively in the second half. And then Jonathan Stark, just another incredible performance… Video game numbers.”
Stark’s prolific 36-point outbreak was complemented mightily by his teammates in the 16-point victory. Three other Racers accrued double-digit performances of their own. Freshman guard Ja Morant scored 17 points and added seven assists, five rebounds and five steals. Senior forward Terrell Miller pulled down seven boards and scored 11 points, while junior forward Jalen Dupree contributed 10 points.
The Racers were tasked with a formidable matchup in sophomore guard and former OVC Freshman of the Year Denzel Mahoney, who torched Murray State for 23 points in last year’s game at the CFSB Center. However, the Racers were able to limit him to 14 points – four in the second half – on 3-of-10 shooting and eight points from the free throw line. McMahon applauded his team’s defense on one of the conference’s premier talents.
“[Mahoney] is a matchup nightmare; he can really play about any position on the floor,” McMahon said. “You’re not going to stop him, you just want to make him take contested shots. We would’ve liked to have kept him off the line, but he’s a tough cover off the bounce. I thought our guys did a great job on him.”
Murray State will look to move to 4-0 in OVC play when they welcome UT Martin to town at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 6, at the CFSB Center.