Eastern Illinois (9-16) at Murray State (15-9)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 15, 8:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: CFSB Center (8,600) -- Murray, Kentucky. Television: None. Home Record: EIU 6-7, MSU 11-1. Away Record: EIU 3-9, MSU 4-8. Neutral Record: EIU 0-0, MSU 0-0. Conference Record: EIU 6-7, MSU 10-2. Series Record: Murray State leads, 38-9.
GAME NOTES: With their 27th straight winning season already secured, the Murray State Racers now turn their attention toward the arrival of Eastern Illinois for an Ohio Valley Conference battle at the CFSB Center on Saturday night.
Leaders in the West Division of the OVC, the Racers have won two straight and five of the last six outings, thanks to an 82-72 victory over SIU Edwardsville two nights ago at home. With the decision, MSU is now an impressive 11-1 at the CFSB Center in 2013-14, the lone loss coming against Middle Tennessee around Thanksgiving.
As for Eastern Illinois, a team which is a game below .500 (6-7) in conference play but still sitting in third place in the division, it was also in action on Thursday, but in that case the Panthers came up short in an 88-83 final versus Austin Peay.
The Racers slipped by EIU in the first meeting of the season a month ago in Charleston by a score of 70-66, which means the all-time series now sits at 38-9 in favor of Murray State.
Sherman Blanford put together a huge double-double for the Panthers two nights ago, posting a career-high 32 points and 18 rebounds, but even that effort was not enough to keep EIU out of the loss column. Dylan Chatman accounted for 19 points and seven assists, followed by Jake Verhagen who came off the bench to register 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting behind the 3-point line. The Panthers, who allowed Austin Peay to shoot 56.8 percent from the field, were outscored at the charity stripe, 31-10.
Based on his season averages over the course of 25 games, all but two of which he has started, Blanford's staggering effort on Thursday stands as an exception to the rule. At the moment he leads the program in both scoring and rebounding, but those averages are just 13.9 and 7.5 per game, respectively. Reggie Smith is listed as the only other double-digit scorer for the program with 13.3 ppg and is first with 68 assists, but the transfer from UNLV did not play two nights ago.
Based on their offensive exploits in the first half on Thursday the Racers should have cruised to a huge win at home against SIUE, but the difference in the end was just 10 points, even after the hosts shot an incredible 75.0 percent from the field in the first half. In the second half, MSU dipped to 36.7 percent and made only 1-of-7 beyond the arc, which is why the game was closer than it should have been. Jarvis Williams recorded a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, followed by Cameron Payne with 17 points. Jeffery Moss and T.J. Sapp stepped up with 15 and 14 points, respectively, the latter also clearing nine rebounds off the bench.
Payne may be the leading scorer overall for the Racers with his 15.5 ppg, adding a team-high 135 assists, but he is shooting only 38.6 percent from the floor at the moment. Williams is much more accurate from the field at 62.7 percent, much of that having to do with the fact that he is always close to the rim and has 93 offensive rebounds all by himself. Williams is averaging 14.3 ppg and 10.6 rpg, one of only a handful of players in the nation averaging a double-double.
With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, both of these squads would like nothing more than to gain momentum down the stretch and that seems more likely for the hosts than EIU right now.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Murray State 82, Eastern Illinois 69
02/15 10:26:52 ET