STARKVILLE – Mississippi State extended its winning streak to three on the basketball court with a gutsy 85-81 victory over Murray State on Wednesday.
The Bulldogs (8-2) had one of the most dominant first halves in recent history, shooting an incredible 78.3 percent from the floor and 60 percent from 3-point range.
In what was a competitive matchup through the first 20 minutes, Mississippi State brought the energy and added quite a few plays to the highlight reel. Trey Fort brought the house down with an impressive alley-oop dunk and Andrew Taylor swished a deep 3-pointer with ease to electrify the crowd.
Also in the opening half, starting guard Shakeel Moore led the charge with 14 points while freshman Josh Hubbard continued his hot streak with 10 points off the bench to give the Bulldogs a 53-41 lead at the break.
Head coach Chris Jans was impressed by his team’s offensive showing after seeing his team exit the first half shooting 18 of 23 from the field.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever coached in a game where it felt like that,” Jans said. “At one point — I can’t remember exactly when it was in the first half, it was during a timeout — I started chirping at them about not having any offensive rebounds, and then I looked at the stat sheet and we’re 15-for-16 from the field.”
Mississippi State took the court in the second half looking to dominate and certainly started on fire. The team went on a quick 8-0 run to add to its momentum before the Racers were able to close the gap, leading to an interesting ending within the Hump’s walls.
“Defensively, it was not one of our better performances that we had,” Jans said. “Certainly, tape will tell the true tale, but they made some tough shots too. You’ve got to give them credit.”
The squads traded blows through the final five minutes, with the visitors grabbing a two-point lead on a 3-pointer with just under two minutes left in the game. A made free throw by veteran D.J. Jeffries cut the deficit to just one point, and after a promising defensive stand, it was time for the magic to happen.
Coming out of a timeout with 37 seconds remaining, the Bulldogs set up to run a play that they hoped would give them the advantage for good. It worked as Dashawn Davis lobbed the ball to a sailing Cameron Matthews, who snatched it out of the air and slammed it down to reclaim the lead.
“(Associate head coach) James Miller suggested we run that play and I gravitated toward it right away,” Jans said. “I don’t think I’ve ever ran it when you’re down one [with] under a minute to play. I’ve run it in tough situations before, but never quite like that.”
From there, the Bulldogs held Murray State (3-6) off as Jeffries sank three free throws in the final 12 seconds to seal the victory.
Although Matthews was the one who scored the go-ahead basket, he had high praise for Jeffries’ performance in the most crucial moments of the game.
“[Jeffries’] always been that guy, whether he’s scoring the ball or not, he’s just a really great player, he knows how to play,” Matthews said.
Jeffries did a little bit of everything and recorded a double-double with 12 boards and 11 points while dishing out four assists. Moore tallied a team-high 16 points while Hubbard finished with 15 points.
After the game, Jans gave an update on standout forward Tolu Smith III’s injury. The 6-foot-11 graduate was cleared to begin full-contact practice on Friday.
Up next, Mississippi State travels to Tupelo on Sunday to take on North Texas at Cadence Bank Arena. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m.
Visit www.HailState.com for the latest news and information on the men’s basketball program. Fans also can follow the program on its official social media accounts by searching ‘HailStateMBK’ on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram.