ESTERO, Fla. -- A forgettable first half led to Murray State's second loss of the season on Monday night, 74-63 to La Salle in the opening round of the 2019 Gulf Coast Showcase at Hertz Arena in Estero, Florida.
After a Tevin Brown 3-pointer -- courtesy a cross-court pass from Darnell Cowart -- gave the Racers a 14-11 lead with 11:41 left in the first half, the Explorers opened up from the arc. Four 3-pointers -- one from Scott Spencer, one from Sherif Kenney and two from Saul Phiri -- helped bolster a 15-2 run and a 26-14 advantage for La Salle.
By halftime, the Explorers toted a 41-26 advantage behind 8-for-16 shooting from the arc, a 7-for-9 effort from the line and a 15-to-7 edge in rebounding.
The Racers, meanwhile went 2-for-11 from the arc in the strewtch, and wound up finishing just 4-for-20 from the arc -- getting two makes each from Brown (19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, 40 minutes) and Jaiveon Eaves (10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists).
"We played hard," noted MSU coach Matt McMahon on his postgame comments with Froggy 103.7 FM's Neal Bradley and Kenny Roth. "We always play hard. But we didn't play well. As I was just telling our players, we're at a point in the season where film is out there. So teams are seeing where weaknesses are. And La Salle -- credit to coach (Ashley) Howard -- had a great plan to come out and attack our poor ball-screen defense. We just couldn't defend the 3-point line. We tried to mix our coverages, but we just couldn't get there to get the job done. Credit to them for stepping up and knocking down shots."
Down 55-38 after a second-half triple from La Salle's Isiah Deas, one of five Explorers in double figures, the Racers used a 15-7 run to get back within a single-digit deficit. And again, down 70-56, the Racers cut it to single digits -- as Cowart had five points in a 7-0 run.
MSU, however, went without a basket in the final 4:19 of the game, and the Explorers prevailed.
La Salle finished the game 13-for-28 from the arc. MSU? 4-for-20, or a 39-12 differential in points from the arc.
Point guards pummeled
After MSU's DaQuan Smith opened the game 0-for-3 from behind the arc before the first media timeout, McMahon went with Chico Carter Jr. (25 minutes) before eventually returning to Smith (15 minutes).
They went a combined 1-for-8 from the floor, including 0-for-6 from deep. Smith had two assists but no points, while Carter Jr. had five second-half points, but four fouls with one assist and one turnover.
Cowart getting comfy
Cowart was the team's third double-digit scorer on Monday, adding 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting with five rebounds and two assists with just one turnover. He also played 26 minutes off the bench -- the most he's played through these first five games.
"I felt really good on the offensive side of the ball when we were able to get him deeper touches in the painted area," McMahon said. "Thought he had a couple really nice passes there in the first half that led to some big threes.
"We've just really got to work on improving at the defensive end of the floor. Not just Darnell, but our entire defense."
Weber State next
With the defeat, MSU falls into the consolation bracket and meets Weber State for a 12:30 p.m. tipoff at Hertz Arena. The Wildcats -- powered by NBA hopeful and the Big Sky 2019 Preseason MVP -- got 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting earlier on Monday, but fell to Horizon League power Wright State 72-57 behind 17 points and 12 boards from Loudon Love and 27 points from Billy Wampler.
"(Harding's) just coming off of injury," McMahon noted. "Missed some time this fall, but he's been back these past couple of weeks here, and he's a really talented scorer. And when you look at our two losses here, we've given up 25 made threes at 50%. You're just not going to beat good teams when that's your 3-point defense.
"We've got to make a lot of improvements there, and it starts with our ability to contain 1-on-1 play and ball-screen defense."
LA SALLE 75, MURRAY ST. 64
MURRAY ST. (3-2)
Williams 2-4 1-2 5, A.Smith 3-6 1-2 7, D.Smith 0-4 0-0 0, Eaves 4-10 0-0 10, Brown 8-17 1-1 19, Gilmore 2-3 0-0 4, Cowart 6-12 2-4 14, Robinson 0-0 0-0 0, Holliday 0-0 0-0 0, Carter 1-4 3-4 5. Totals 26-60 8-13 64.
LA SALLE (2-2)
Croswell 5-6 1-2 11, Deas 4-5 2-3 12, Phiri 4-7 0-0 11, Spencer 3-8 2-4 10, Beatty 2-6 4-8 9, Stone 1-3 0-0 3, Kimbrough 0-2 2-2 2, Hikim 0-0 2-2 2, Kenney 5-9 1-2 15, Ray 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-47 14-23 75.
Halftime: La Salle 41-26. 3-Point Goals: Murray St. 4-20 (Eaves 2-5, Brown 2-8, Cowart 0-1, Carter 0-2, D.Smith 0-4), La Salle 13-28 (Kenney 4-7, Phiri 3-5, Deas 2-3, Spencer 2-5, Stone 1-3, Beatty 1-4, Ray 0-1). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Murray St. 25 (Brown 6), La Salle 30 (Croswell 10). Assists: Murray St. 11 (Brown 3), La Salle 13 (Deas, Hikim 3). Total Fouls: Murray St. 18, La Salle 16.