Murray guards lift Racers to win over Gaels

Murray State's Zay Jackson drives to the lane against St. Mary's Rob Jones in their game Saturday night in Murray, Ky.

MURRAY, Ky — Murray State made a statement in their 65-51 victory over St. Mary’s on Saturday . Meanwhile, the Gaels missed out on a big chance to impress the NCAA Tournament bracket committee.

The Racers didn’t let go of their lead once, as Isaiah Canaan went off for 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 5-of-8 from three. With the game still well within reach for the Gaels eight minutes into the second half, Canaan scored all eight points in an 8-2 run for the Racers, extending their lead to 16 points. He had two 3-pointers and layup in the stretch.

“He can shoot it so well,” St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said following the game. “He reminds me of (Weber State’s) Damian Lillard. His ability to shoot makes him exceptional.”

Canaan was the spark-plug, but it was Donte Poole who provided the big lift to begin the game. He scored all of his 11 points in the first half. Murray’s starting guards (Canaan, Poole and Jewuan Long) combined to shoot 16-of-24 in the game.

“When you play a team like Murray who is a very good team, they will expose you,” Bennett said. “Their guards are really good. Their bigs are better than you’d think. With those type of teams, if you don’t do anything right you’ll get exposed.”

St. Mary’s was forced to play without top defender and third-leading scorer Stephen Holt due to an injury he sustained in Wednesday’s loss against Loyola Marymount. To make matters worse, Matthew Dellavedova played nowhere near 100 percent after a recent ankle injury. Dellavedova still managed 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting, adding in six assists.

“He’s a stud — he essentially played on one leg,” Bennett said. “He’s an unbelievable competitor. I didn’t want him to play, but he wanted to play. But he was dragging his leg up there, he can’t accelerate. I hope he didn’t set himself back at all. We need him too much down the stretch.”

With Canaan and Poole nearly lights out shooting threes for the Racers, it wasn’t quite the same for the Gaels, who shot 2-of-14 from deep.

Murray got the big win they so desperately needed and proved they were worthy of not only an NCAA Tournament bid, but a top-15 ranking as well.

“Anyone who is 26-1 at this time is really good,” Bennett said. “There are good teams in their conference, and they have played on the road at some tough places.”

St. Mary’s will likely fall out of the top-25 in the rankings, after losing three-of-four games. The losing streak will also mean they will probably need to win the West Coast Conference Tournament next month to receive a bid in the NCAA Tournament. Bennett said the tough late-season schedule and the recent injuries should be put into perspective.

“You could have predicted we’d lose the (games at Gonzaga and Murray),” he said. “We got beat up a little. Losing will surface. We just have to get back to work and identify what the problems are and what we can control.”

Murray has two games left in the year, at Tennessee Tech and Tennsssee State, who handed the Racers their first loss of the year. St. Mary’s faces Portland and San Fransicso to close out the year.

-PHOTO: GOOGLE IMAGES/ESPNPENSACOLA.COM

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