Something was bound to give in McBrayer Arena Saturday night. Morehead State brought the Ohio Valley Conference’s top-ranked scoring defense to Richmond to square off against its second-ranked offense in Eastern Kentucky, and the outcome was in doubt until just one-tenth of a second remained.
After Miguel Dicent split a pair of free throws to give the Eagles a 69-67 lead with 14 seconds left, Morehead State’s defense went into lockdown mode, harassing Eastern Kentucky’s guards all the way into the front court and forcing Javontae Hawkins into a highly contested three-pointer that thudded off the rim and into Dicent’s waiting hands. After being fouled with 0.1 left on the clock, the sophomore guard split two more free throws to give Morehead State a 70-67 road win over the Colonels.
Early on, it looked like Morehead State’s frontcourt might prove too much to handle for the Colonels. Anthony Elechi was a menace in the paint in the first half, scoring eight points and grabbing three offensive rebounds in the first 15 minutes of the game. But with 5:16 left in the half and the score tied 23-23, the senior center picked up his second foul and finished the half on the bench, while the Colonels closed the half with a 9-5 run to take a 32-28 lead into the locker room.
After a monster dunk by Colonels freshman Nick Mayo gave EKU its biggest lead of the night two-and-a-half minutes into the second half, Morehead State went on a 7-0 run to take a 39-38 lead it would never relinquish. Junior guard Xavier Moon scored seven of his team-high 14 points for the Eagles down the stretch and played a big role in holding the Colonels to 1 of 17 from the behind the three-point line.
Eastern shot 45.5 percent from the field despite being off-target from behind the arc. But the Eagles scoring defense held serve, keeping the Colonels well under their season average of 81.8 points per game.
Elechi finished with 12 points and eight rebounds for Morehead State in just 20 foul-limited minutes. His frontcourt partner DeJuan Marrero had one of the game’s two double-doubles, scoring 11 points and adding 12 rebounds.
Eagles’ head coach Sean Woods was frustrated that Elechi couldn’t shake foul trouble, but likes what his senior big man is capable of when he manages to stay on the court.
“He just has to stay out of foul trouble,” said Woods. “There’s nobody that can guard him when he’s out there. He’s a force.”
Mayo led the charge for the Colonels after a shaky first half, scoring 15 of his game-high 19 points after halftime and pulling down 10 rebounds.
“I got on him hard at the half and he came out like a man possessed,” EKU first-year head coach Dan McHale said of his freshman big man. “He’s going to be an unguardable force in this league for years to come.”
Despite the tough loss, McHale sees good things on the horizon.
“I questioned us the past couple of weeks because of our heart,” he said. “The talent’s there but our margin of error is so thin. We’re 0-4 in these games decided in the last minute. But tonight I saw their heart and I was very pleased with that. One of these days it’s gonna break through and we’re gonna be on the other side of one of these close games. Tonight they played with a lot of passion and heart and that’s all I can ask for.”
Morehead State improved to 12-9 on the season, 6-3 in the OVC. Eastern Kentucky fell to 12-12, 3-6 in the Conference.
MOREHEAD ST. 70,
EASTERN KENTUCKY 67
MOREHEAD ST. (12-9): Marrero 2-9 7-10 11, Elechi 5-6 2-2 12, Maitland 2-6 2-3 7, Moon 5-14 3-4 14, Arrington 2-10 3-4 9, Collins 1-2 0-0 3, Dicent 0-1 3-6 3, Harris 0-1 0-0 0, Williams 0-0 1-2 1, Beamon 0-2 0-0 0, Gaines 3-4 4-5 10. Totals 20-55 25-36 70.
EASTERN KENTUCKY (12-12): Mayo 6-8 7-7 19, Reischel 7-14 4-5 18, Powell 4-5 0-1 8, Jackson 2-6 2-3 6, McGlone 1-6 0-1 2, Matthews 0-0 0-0 0, Babb-Harrison 1-8 0-0 3, Hawkins 3-7 3-4 9, Pratt Jr. 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-55 16-21 67.
Halftime—E. Kentucky 32-28. 3-Point Goals—Morehead St. 5-13 (Arrington 2-4, Collins 1-2, Moon 1-2, Maitland 1-3, Harris 0-1, Dicent 0-1), E. Kentucky 1-17 (Babb-Harrison 1-4, Powell 0-1, Jackson 0-1, Hawkins 0-3, Reischel 0-3, McGlone 0-5). Fouled Out—Maitland, Powell, Reischel. Rebounds—Morehead St. 39 (Marrero 12), E. Kentucky 34 (Mayo 10). Assists—Morehead St. 13 (Arrington 4), E. Kentucky 12 (McGlone 5). Total Fouls—Morehead St. 23, E. Kentucky 25. A—3,900.
Eastern Kentucky: at Tennessee State, 8 p.m. Thursday
Morehead State: at Belmont, 8 p.m. Thursday