MURRAY, Ky. — Jonathan Stark, the preseason player of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference, scored 17 of his game-high 27 points in the second half to help Murray State's men's basketball team rally past SIU, 81-73, on Saturday night at the CFSB Center.
The Salukis (2-2) led by six at the half and by two with 4:51 to go, but back-to-back 3-pointers pushed the Racers (3-1) ahead to stay. Stark hit a 24-foot 3-pointer from the right wing for a 66-65 lead, and then found Shaq Buchanan for his second triple of the night. Buchanan, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior guard from Northeast Mississippi Community College, was 1 of 5 behind the 3-point arc in his first three games as a Racer before sinking 2 of 3 Saturday night.
"We were trying to help on (forward Terrell) Miller, and Buchanan makes two threes on us," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "We knew Stark was going to get his points. We even talked about it at halftime. He's gonna get his points. We gotta do a better job on the other guys, and I thought we did a good job on Miller in the second half."
Miller, Murray State's leading scorer entering the game at 15 points per game, had eight points and four rebounds in the first half. He finished the game with 16 and 10.
Stark, a strong 6-foot, 180-pound senior guard, made 8 of 16 from the field and 6 of 8 at the free-throw line in 38 minutes. SIU's defensive length on the perimeter bothered freshman point guard Ja Morant, who had four assists and three turnovers in 36 minutes, so Murray State coach Matt McMahon moved Stark to the point in the second half. He handed out eight assists, six in the second half against one turnover, including the pass to Buchanan that put the Racers up, 69-65, with 3:40 to play.
"We didn't want to get too complicated, just wanted to put Stark in some good positions," McMahon said. "You see the 27 points, and I'm sure that will get a lot of attention, but a lot of his big plays were his assists in the second half. He got Shaq two open 3s that he stepped up and delivered, and I thought he was just terrific."
SIU point guard Aaron Cook tried to match Stark with one of his best games as a Saluki. The 6-1 sophomore had eight points, four assists and one turnover in 31 minutes. Cook added four rebounds and two steals.
The Salukis missed 14 of 21 3-pointers, but shot 44.6 percent from the field for the game in their third road game of the season. Sean Lloyd added 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
"I was so impressed with Aaron tonight," Hinson said. "I thought he did a great job, defensively, on their point guard, but he got us into an offense. Everybody else was sped up out there, up and down, but not Aaron. I was really proud of him."
Center Kavion Pippen scored 12 points and Tyler Smithpeters added eight off the bench. All eight players that got in for SIU scored at least six points. The Salukis even outscored Murray State's bench 21-14, but managed only eight points the last 4:51 and got outscored by 10 at the free-throw line.
SIU didn't attempt a single free throw in the second half. Murray State converted 11 of 16 at the stripe in the second half and 18 of 24 for the game.
The Salukis return home to face sister school SIU-Edwardsville on Wednesday night and San Jose State on Saturday.