Midwesterners were looking forward to Wednesday’s matchup between Southern Illinois and Murray State in a tilt that featured top teams from both the Missouri Valley and Ohio Valley Conferences.
SIU came into the contest with a five game winning streak, and Murray had won five of its first six games. Both teams were ranked in the top 100 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, and Racer star Ja Morant brings excitement to any game in which he plays.
But despite all the build up, this one was over early.
Morant hit two early threes, Saluki big men struggled offensively and the smaller Racers aggressively took control of the boards. SIU’s Sean Lloyd’s (reigning Valley Player of the Week) layup with 12:28 left in the first half cut an MSU lead to 15-9. The Salukis didn’t make another field goal until Lloyd made another layup eleven minutes later.
Murray led 49-18 at the half.
SIU coach Barry Hinson told media members that Morant could be a lottery pick in next season’s NBA draft, and the 6’3 guard did not disappoint scouts in the stands or the fans who wanted to see just how good he is.
He had 15 points and nine assists at halftime. He repeatedly sliced through the Saluki defense with behind the back dribble drives and precision passes. Several times his teammates were so shocked by the delivery they fumbled the pass or missed the shot.
Morant finished with 23 points, 13 assists and three steals. His command of the game was masterful. He collected his fourth double-double of the season and his fifth 20-point game.
Murray State (6-1) is 2-0 versus Missouri Valley schools and they host Evansville next week. Dating back to last season, the Racers have won four straight against Valley teams. Maybe MVC members are glad Murray State didn’t join the Valley last year.
Freshman Tevin Brown converted six shots from long distance on his way to a career high 20 points.
SIU (7-4) travels to New York for their second game with No. 14 Buffalo on Saturday.