MURRAY. Ky. – Murray State used a dominant second half to score a come-from-behind 86-55 win over SIUE Saturday at the CFSB Center.
The Cougars led by as many as eight points in the first half and led by six at the break.
"It clearly was not a 40-minute effort," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said. "They came out and they set the tone in the second half."
Murray State improved to 19-4 overall and 10-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference. SIUE fell to 8-16 overall and 4-8 in OVC play.
Murray State started fast, building a 20-8 lead but the Cougars' defense allowed them to take over the final minutes of the half. SIUE finished the first half on a 16-4 run as Murray State landed just one of its final nine field goal attempts in the first period. The Cougars led 38-32 at the break.
"We responded in the first half and we made them play a half-court game the last 15 (minutes) of the first half and that's why we went into the half with a lead," Harris said.
Murray State took over immediately in the second half. The Racers scored the first 17 points in the second half and never looked back.
SIUE missed seven of its first eight shots in the half, while the Racers opened the half nine of 15 from the field.
"In the second half, our transition defense never came along and then we didn't make any shots," Harris continued. "We have to find a way to be stronger and more consistent mentally. We broke because we started worrying about things we had no control over."
SIUE was just 5 for 23 from the field (21.7 percent) in the second half, including 1 for 10 from three-point range. For the game, the Cougars hit on just 34 percent of their shots. SIUE finished the game 14 for 14 from the free throw line. The Racers connected on 21 of 34 shots (61.8 percent) in the second period and 52 percent for the game.
Ja Morant led Murray State with 20 points and six assists. K.J. Williams scored 16 points. Tevin Brown and Devin Gilmore scored 12 points each. Darnell Cowart added 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The crowd of 8,007 was the largest the Cougars have played in front of all season.
"It's a hell of an environment, the best in the league by far," Harris said. "As a player, this is what you want."
SIUE returns home to face Eastern Illinois Thursday and UT Martin Saturday.
"We lost to both of those teams on the road and they are both playing really good basketball," Harris said. "We cannot allow ourselves to take being at home for granted."