Fueled by the fireworks of senior guard Xavier Moon and a dominating team performance in the paint, the Morehead State men’s basketball team fought off a game Eastern Kentucky squad for a 67-62 win in McBrayer Arena on Saturday night.
The victory extended the Eagles’ win streak to a season-high four games and got them above .500 for the first time in more than two months at 13-12. It also put Morehead in strong position to solidify a bye in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. The Eagles sit alone in second place in the OVC, two games ahead of Jacksonville State and UT-Martin with four games left on the year. The loss leaves EKU on the outside looking in. Only the top eight teams qualify for the OVC Tournament and the Colonels now sit in 11th place at 3-9.
With EKU leading 18-15, Moon scored his first points of the game on a 10-foot jumper then nailed a three-pointer on the next possession for a 20-18 Eagles lead. He scored Morehead’s final five points of the half on a 12-foot pull-up off a screen followed by another three to give the Eagles a 35-27 halftime lead.
Moon finished with team highs of 16 points and nine rebounds. As a team, Morehead outrebounded the Colonels 46-27.
“Outrebounding them by 19 means a huge team effort, but if your 165-pound six-one point guard gets in there and gets nine rebounds,that’s pretty special,” said Morehead State interim head coach Preston Spradlin. “He can obviously score and he can obviously set guys up for baskets, but if you’ve got him getting the most rebounds in the game, that’s just incredible.”
Moon said he enjoys battling for boards.
“I like getting in there and mixing it up a little bit and trying to get us out on the break,” he said. “We’ve got some bigs that are great rebounders and we hang our hat on that as a team.”
Nick Mayo and Asante Gist kept the Colonels in the game all night. Sophomore forward Mayo, a preseason All-OVC selection, routinely found ways to score despite facing double-teams in the post. He finished with 17 points and six rebounds.
Freshman guard Gist had a game-high 20 points, 13 of which came in the second half, on 8-of-17 shooting.
Gist said the Colonels are making clear progress, especially for a young team that starts just one senior.
“We feel like we’re right there, and we’re gonna keep practicing hard and getting better. But it’s frustrating being so close and not getting the win. It seems like the other team just hits a big basket. It just hasn’t bounced our way,” he said.
Mayo went to the bench with just over nine minutes to play in the game after drawing his fourth foul but returned at the seven minute mark after Morehead pulled ahead 57-50. He sank a one-handed floater off a spin move to draw the Colonels within 62-57, then drew an intentional foul on a fast-break and went 1-for-2 at the line.
Mayo drained a 10-foot jumper to cut the Morehead lead to 64-62 with 1:20 to play, but the Colonels missed two potential game-tying shots with less than a minute left and Morehead sealed it with three free throws in the closing seconds, including two from Moon.
“We didn’t have a great shooting night, but these guys are resilient,” said Spradlin. “They got to the offensive boards and got to the line and did whatever it took to get a big road win.”
Eastern Kentucky: 8 p.m. Thursday at Belmont
Morehead State: 9 p.m. Thursday at Tennessee State (ESPNU)