Murray State is going through some growing pains in year one under Matt McMahon, and lost its third straight game tonight. A 63-61 loss to Illinois State was not without its opportunities and effort, but the Racers just could not nab what was in front of them.
Deontae Hawkins connected on ISU's 10th 3-point make of the day, in what felt like a dagger even with 2:59 left to put ISU up 59-54. Wayne Langston followed up his first miss of the game by grabbing his own shot and scored to run the score to 59-56. Bryce Jones followed that and put on his hero shoes for a moment by hitting a jumper to make it a one-point game, but proceeded to turn the ball over with the Racers down three. A Devaughn Akoon-Purcell open-court slam then brought the spread to five. Bryce Jones banked home a shot from about 28-feet after a missed ISU free throw, and with just 16.9 seconds remaining, the Racers trailed by just two.
After two Akoon-Purcell missed free throws, Murray State pushed the ball up court before being fouled with 4.6 seconds remaining. The Racers designed an out-of-bounds play that couldn't get to the designated target and ended up in the hands of secondary option Jeffery Moss. Moss hoisted a contested 3-point shot that caromed off both the glass and the rim and bounced harmlessly away to cement the Redbirds win.
Earlier on, Murray State jumped out to a quick lead in the game at 7-1 but soon found itself in a battle with the Redbirds through the first. The Racers went into the break with a 31-26 lead.
Illinois State responded with a run of its own to start the second. Offensive boards for Redbirds and second-chance opportunities highlighted their higher energy level to start the half. They outworked the Racers for much of the second. Better passing was also a shining characteristic of the second half, with ball movement coming much better in the latter half. Overall, ISU finished with 18 assists on 25 made baskets.
Langston missed one shot on the day and finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds in very workmanlike fashion. Neither Moss nor Gee McGhee ever got going, and that spelled trouble with the offensive unit that struggled to score for much of the latter 20 minutes.
Demarcus Croaker played some important minutes in the second half. His slam pulled MSU within two when ISU threatened to pull away. A 3-pointer from him put the Racers back on top. However, a Nick Banyard trey put the Redbirds back up. A layup from Croaker at the 2:57 mark pulled the Racers back within two, and things, as mentioned above, got even more hectic. Croaker finished with 12 points.
The Redbirds knocked down a season-high 10 3-pointers as Hawkins led the way with three of his own and 16 points total.
This one hurts for the Racers, who now sit at 5-5 after losing three straight and have yet to win a true road game. Illinois State moved to 4-6 with the home win.