It didn’t take Southeast Missouri head coach Dickie Nutt long to talk about the importance of a tonight’s game.
He opened his postgame comments by doing so.
“We’ve made some really good steps,” Nutt said, “but we haven’t had the step that we need to take to have a championship night, so to speak.”
Nutt immediately walked the statement back, saying it’s just one game in a long season, but it was clear what this game meant to the Redhawks. This was their chance to make a statement of their own, to gain an early upper hand in what they expect to be a tough division fight. This was their chance to take down a team that’s won 12 of the last 13 games in the series.
This was their chance to prove they belong in the same conversation as their rival Racers. And for twenty five minutes, it appeared that’s exactly what was going to happen.
With 14:10 remaining, Southeast Missouri forward Tyler Stone hit his second three of the night, pushing the Redhawks lead to 10 points, the second time in the half the lead reached double-digits.
And then the guy the Redhawks had kept in check all night, the preseason All-American, reminded everyone why. Isaiah Cannan, who was coming off one of the worst halves of the season, had the moment many Murray State fans had been waiting for.
Canaan, finally, took over a game.
Back-to-back three pointers became three in five possessions, as Canaan, held to five points on 2-8 shooting in the first half, put up 23 in the second half. The first of those made threes but Canaan ahead of Frank Allen for the most three pointers in Murray State history; the third pulled the Racers, who trailed by as much as 12 points in the half, back within one. A layup by Ed Daniel two possessions later would put Murray State in the lead, and they never looked back on their way to a 74-66 win over the rival Redhawks.
Southeast’s moment in the spotlight, and atop the division, will have to wait for now.
“We didn’t have an answer for Ed Daniel in the second half,” Nutt said after the loss. Daniel, who’s gotten in foul trouble in some of the Racers recent games, got the better of Stone on the battle of the interior, finishing the game with 15 points and 17 rebounds, 10 off the offensive glass. Stone would score 16 points, but pulled down just five rebounds, his second worst rebounding night of the year.
“He’s tough, he’s a physical, energetic player,” Stone said of Daniel. “They were more physical than us, and we’ve got to play with that mindset.”
Murray State head coach Steve Prohm also spoke on the play of his senior forward. “Ed has been a warrior on the glass. He gets 17 rebounds today, in a game against two very good post players, that was huge.”
Cannan wasn’t far away from a double-double himself, adding 8 rebounds to his game-high 28 points.
Southeast Missouri’s backcourt, coming off arguably their best game of the year as a unit, carried that momentum into the first half. A.J. Jones, recently added to the starting lineup for the Redhawks, led all scorers at the break with 12 points, and Lucas Nutt had a game high five assists. Both struggled somewhat in the second half, as the Redhawks offense stalled, shooting just 5-16 from the field in the last 11:21.
It’s hard to express just what this loss means for the Redhawks. They won’t face the Racers again until the final game of the regular season in March, and it’s possible the division could be out of reach at that point. SEMO struggled in their three game homestand somewhat to open conference play, but ultimately emerged in good shape with two wins. On one hand, they should be confident in knowing they can play with the Racers, but they must also deal with the disappointment of letting a double-digit lead at home slip through their fingers.
Murray State continues to find a way. Canaan is clearly still not at 100% with the injury to his foot, but came up with three huge shots when the Racers desperately needed them in the second half. Stacy Wilson had another strong performance for the Racers, hitting some shots to keep the game close in the first half when it was clear Canaan was off his game. One of the better things to emerge from tonight’s game: the development of freshman Jeffery Moss. Moss played 25 minutes tonight, and has had solid outings in his past few games. Prohm says he’s been challenging his freshman to step up, and it very much appears Moss has done so. LaTreze Mushatt did not play for the Racers.
The Redhawks will need to rebound quickly, with a tough road swing next week at Belmont, and Tennessee State, both undefeated in conference play. Murray State returns home to host a very dangerous Eastern Kentucky team, before traveling to rival Austin Peay next Saturday.