SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A snoozer of a start turned into a fantastic finish on Tuesday night, with Missouri State just edging Murray State 71-69 at JQH Arena.
Two high-quality teams still "trying to figure things out," the Racers grabbed a 66-65 lead with 49 seconds to go on a pump-fake from Tevin Brown (19 points, 5-for-17 shooting) and a dish to Demond Robinson (six points, two blocks) for a slip-and-slam.
Bears senior guard Keandre Cook (15 points, 3-for-7 shooting, 7-for-7 from the stripe), however, capped his 15 points in the final eight minutes of the game with a back-breaking triple over the outstretched hands of DaQuan Smith. And after a missed layup from MSU's Darnell Cowart, Missouri State was able to seal the game at the charity stripe before a harmless triple from Brown at the buzzer.
"We got switched off there late and up one," noted MSU's fifth-year coach Matt McMahon. "I thought we guarded it well, but credit to him. He stepped up and made a really big shot."
A frozen first
In what has been a bit of a trend for the Racers this season, MSU didn't start the game shooting well -- opening 1-for-6 from the field and shooting just 8-for-27 in the first half.
Only Brown could find his footing early (10 points, 3-for-9), with D. Smith (0-for-4) and senior Jaiveon Eaves (0-for-4) combining for eight misses.
Missouri State didn't fare much better, taking a 25-22 lead into the break behind eight points from 2019 Missouri Valley Newcomer of the Year Tulio Da Silva. But the Bears shot 10-for-25 from the field (40%) and just 3-for-12 from the arc (25%).
MSU opened the second half shooting 0-for-7 before Brown's emphatic steal-and-slam cut the Racer deficit to 30-26.
The Bears held a 38-30 lead with just under 14 minutes to play when the Racers used a 16-4 run for a 46-42 advantage. Two free throws from Robinson. An Eaves triple. A D. Smith drive-and-score. Three free throws from Brown. A curl from Eaves. An absolute dime from Brown to Anthony Smith (12 points, 10 rebounds) for a slam. Then, a D. Smith steal-and-layup.
But from there, the Bears would regroup for a 57-52 lead -- courtesy of 3-pointers from Ford Cooper Jr. and Cook.
The Bears, after shooting 3-for-12 from the arc in the first 20 minutes, went 4-for-6 in the second half - good for 38.9%, as MSU continues to stress improvement in what has been tepid 3-point defense to start 2019-20.
"It's our job to make them miss," McMahon said. "Some of it is, (opponents) have taken advantage of our slowness at the big position and some ball screens, which has put us in some scramble situations.
"But we showed a lot of improvement in the first half. But in that second half? We were late on two closeouts, and they hit late threes. And then the shot they hit there to win the game was a tough shot, but we've got to find a way to take that away."
Both teams shot north of 40% in the final 20 minutes.
Carter sidelined indefinitely
Minutes before tipoff, Murray State officials unveiled news of Racer freshman point guard Chico Carter Jr., who may not return to the team due to injury.
"Chico Carter, Jr. will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering a fractured bone in his hand at the Gulf Coast Showcase last week," McMahon said in a release. "I am disappointed for Chico, as his freshman season is off to a great start. I look forward to Chico making a speedy recovery and I'm extremely excited about his bright future at Murray State."
Carter had earned his first career start during the Gulf Coast Showcase, and was averaging 8.4 points and 2.1 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game. He was second on the team with 21 assists in seven games while shooting 57.8% from the field and 17-for-19 from the stripe.
McMahon clarified some statements after the game, noting he just needs his freshman guard to "get healthy" before the team even remotely considers a return to the floor -- much less a medical redshirt.
"Just crushed for him," McMahon said. "His freshman year was off to a great start. He got hit during the Weber State game (last) Tuesday. Really swelled up. Tried to give it a go Wednesday (against Drake), and battled through. But upon having an X-ray on our return, he does have a fracture in his hand. Indefinite deal. One you can't play with. He's a tough competitor, and he'd love to play. But it's something we've got to get healed up moving forward so we don't have to look at any surgery or anything in the future. Don't have a definite timeline. Just want to get him back to 100%. But as I told our team, some adversity. But the expectations and standards don't change. We've got to fight like crazy and find a way to start winning games."
Missouri St. 71, Murray St. 69
MURRAY ST. (4-4) -- A.Smith 4-7 4-8 12, Williams 1-5 1-2 3, Eaves 4-9 5-6 14, D.Smith 3-9 0-0 7, T.Brown 5-17 6-7 19, Robinson 2-2 2-2 6, Cowart 2-9 1-2 5, Gilmore 1-1 0-0 2, Holliday 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 22-59 20-29 69.
MISSOURI ST. (4-5) -- Da Silva 5-8 6-8 16, West 3-7 0-0 8, Cook 3-7 7-7 15, Dixon 3-6 0-0 7, Black 2-5 0-0 5, Prim 5-12 0-0 10, Mosley 1-2 0-0 2, Cooper 1-4 0-0 3, Hall 2-4 1-2 5. Totals 25-55 14-17 71.
Halftime: Missouri St. 25-22. 3-Point Goals: Murray St. 5-16 (T.Brown 3-6, Eaves 1-4, D.Smith 1-4, Williams 0-2), Missouri St. 7-18 (Cook 2-3, West 2-5, Cooper 1-2, Dixon 1-4, Black 1-4). Fouled Out: A.Smith. Rebounds: Murray St. 36 (A.Smith 10), Missouri St. 34 (Da Silva 11). Assists: Murray St. 5 (T.Brown 3), Missouri St. 14 (Prim, Dixon 3). Total Fouls: Murray St. 18, Missouri St. 23. A: 3,817 (11,000).