No. 19 Murray St. 76, E. Kentucky 67
MURRAY, Ky. (AP)
Donte Poole's superstition involves getting on the court as early as he can and taking up to 200 shots to keep his mind clear before his Murray State teammates arrive. He kept the 19th-ranked Racers' record unblemished, too.
''It's maybe a superstition, but I like to get out there when no one is out here,'' said Poole, who went 6 of 12 from the field. ''I get in my rhythm and space everything out, really.''
So, far it's been a sweet tune.
The Racers (15-0, 3-0 Ohio Valley Conference) are one win from matching the school's all-time best start set in 1935-36. But to get there they had to hold off a furious rally by the Colonels.
Jaron Jones scored 23 points for Eastern Kentucky (9-7, 3-1).
''In the second half, we really turned up our defense and fought back,'' Jones said.
The Colonels trailed by as many as 15 points, but came within one with just under 5 minutes to go before falling for the seventh straight time in the series.
''They always come back. We had it at 15 in the first half and I thought it was big,'' Murray State coach Steve Prohm said. ''The difference tonight, we didn't give them easy turnovers off their 1-3-1 (zone).''
The Racers played their first game without senior forward Ivan Aska, the team's leading rebounder who is out indefinitely with a broken right hand. Ed Daniel scored 16 points and Stacy Wilson added 13 for the Racers.
Murray State started the day one of four remaining unbeaten teams in Division I men's basketball with Syracuse, Baylor and Missouri. But the Racers got a close call against the Colonels after opening a 42-27 lead on Wilson's 3-pointer with 1:52 left in the first half.
''I told them don't try to get it all at once, just get it one possession at a time and I do think we had that mentality in the second half,'' Colonels coach Jeff Neubauer said. ''Guys were not taking crazy shots - other than Mike DiNunno - everyone else was very disciplined and understood what we needed and kept attacking the rim.''
Eastern Kentucky's Jeff Allgood hit a 3 and Racers guard Jewuan Long was called for a technical foul with just under 9 minutes to play for arguing with officials. The Colonels made all four free throws to cut it to 54-50.
After Poole hit a free throw, DiNunno missed a 3 that would have tied it, but hit a floater in the lane on the next possession to cut it to 55-54.
Daniel's three-point play made it 58-54 with 4:25 left.
Murray State pushed the lead to six points, but Jones rallied the Colonels again, hitting a jumper and adding two free throws that cut it to 65-62 with 1:29 to play.
Poole hit two free throws that made it 67-62 and Jones, the reigning OVC player of the year, was called for charging with 1:05 left as the Colonels could never get closer despite 16 points from D'Mitri Riggs.
''A couple of turnovers, that's what really sticks out to me at the end,'' Jones said. ''There were some mental mistakes.''
Murray State is one of the nation's most prolific 3-point shooting teams, coming in at 43.7 percent. The Racers went 8 of 17 from beyond the arc against the Colonels.
Aska broke his hand in the first half of Murray State's 73-40 victory over Eastern Illinois on Dec. 30, but still played 21 minutes in the game. Aska had been averaging 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds in 14 starts, but Poole picked up the slack.
''It was tough on the offensive end, defensive end, rebounding wise (without Aska),'' Poole said. ''The whole time we were playing, I heard him on the sideline yelling.''
Canaan, a junior guard, became the 38th player in Racers' history to go over 1,000 points with a 3-pointer with 12:43 to go in the first half.
''Isaiah's done a tremendous job,'' Prohm said. ''Isaiah's really stepped in the leadership role and that's what I told him after the game - `You've got to be great every night.'''