WKU Battles Murray State to the End, but Hilltoppers Fall Short Against Rival
The 150th meeting between WKU and Murray State lived up to its rivalry status, as eight second-half lead changes and key baskets by both teams highlighted a 75-70 Murray State victory Sunday night in Murray, Ky. Brandon Harris scored a career high 23 points and Teeng Akol and George Fant added 14 and 10, respectively, and WKU matched Murray State step-for-step before dropping the five-point decision.
WKU sees its six-game winning streak come to an end and is now 8-3 on the season. Murray State improves to 8-1. Despite the loss, WKU still leads the all-time series between the two schools, 97-53.
Harris buried four three-pointers in the game, including multiple in key stretches near the end of the game, and added six rebounds. Akol and Fant added seven rebounds apiece, and O'Karo Akamune had eight boards in 15 minutes. Murray State was paced by 21 points from All-American Isaiah Canaan and double figures from three others.
WKU shot 43.3 percent from the field in the game (29-for-67), and Murray State converted 49.1 percent (27-for-55). The Racers hit nine three-pointers, and WKU won the battle of the boards, 41-35.
Murray State went on a couple of runs in the first half, but WKU answered each time and the teams went to halftime with Murray State leading 33-28. The Racers took a 15-12 lead after an 8-2 scoring run, but a Harris three-pointer ended the burst and tied the game at 15.
A few minutes later it was a 10-2 Racer scoring stretch that gave them a 25-19 advantage, but again the Hilltoppers responded with four-straight points to trim the lead to two points.
The teams traded baskets down the stretch, and the Racers took a five-point advantage into the halftime locker room. WKU shot 43.3 percent in the opening frame (13-for-30), and Murray State was 11-for-26 (.423) and hit five three-pointers. The Hilltoppers had just five first-half turnovers, and Murray State had four.
WKU clawed back at the start of the second half thanks to defensive effort by Harris and the rebounding of Akamune to take a 47-45 lead on two Akamune free throws. That completed a 16-6 Hilltopper run and gave WKU its first lead since early in the first half.
But Murray State responded with a 14-2 run, which included seven-straight at one point, to open a 66-56 lead. However, Harris would not let WKU go down without another fight, as he buried back-to-back three-pointers to trim the Racer lead to 68-64 with 1:51 left in the game.
Five of Murray State's final seven points in the game came from the free throw line, and the Racers kept the Hilltoppers at bay to pick up their fourth win in the last five games of the series.
With one block in the game, Akol tied Lee Lampley (1997-2000) for 10th place on WKU's career blocked shots list at 74.
Crook moved into 10th place on WKU's career assists leaderboard after four in the game, giving him 307 for his career and leaving him one behind Anthony Palm (1990-91) for ninth.
WKU now travels to VCU on Tuesday to face the Rams at 6:00 PM (CT). The game will be televised on NBC Sports Network and available on the radio on the Hilltopper IMG Sports Network with Randy Lee and Hal Schmitt on the call.
After a game against Louisville in Nashville on December 22 to wrap up the non-conference schedule, WKU returns home to E.A. Diddle Arena on December 27 against FIU and December 29 against North Texas.