Cook, Missouri State finish strong to nip Murray State at finish line

SPRINGFIELD – Keandre Cook scored nine of his 15 points in the final 93 seconds of the game to help lead Missouri State to a thrilling 71-69 victory over visiting Murray State here Tuesday at JQH Arena.

Three of Cook’s scoring chances in the final minute-and-a-half restored the lead for MSU (4-5). His two free throws with 3.7 seconds remaining put the Bears up 71-66 and essentially put the game out of reach, despite a buzzer-beater from 35 feet from the Racers to trim the final margin to two points.

Tulio Da Silva led the Bears with 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Gaige Prim also accounted for 10 points off the bench for the Bears who were playing their first home game in three weeks.

Murray State (4-4) was led by Tevin Brown’s game-high 19 points, while Jaiveon Eaves scored 14, and Anthony Smith accounted for 12 points and 10 rebounds.

After a rugged first half for both clubs, Dana Ford’s squad shot 50 percent from the field in the second half to secure the advantage early in the final stanza. Lamont West extended the Bears’ three-point halftime lead to six with a triple to open the second half, while Da Silva and Josh Hall combined to push the home side ahead by eight with just under 14 minutes to play.

The Racers responded with a 14-2 run over the next four-and-a-half minutes to take a 44-40 lead and force the Bears into a timeout at the 9:46 mark.

Seven different Bears got into the scoring from the point on with Ja’Monta Black scoring on a pass from Prim immediately after the timeout, and Cook getting into the scoring column for the first time with a three-point play at the 8:29 mark.

Prim’s seven-foot hook shoot tied the game, 47-47, with eight minutes remaining, and headed into the game’s final five minutes, the Bears used the momentum of 3-pointers from Ford Cooper Jr. and Cook to build a 57-52 advantage. Prim and Isiaih Mosley added to the home team’s lead with key buckets from there as Mosley’s shot off the glass built a 61-54 advantage for Missouri State with 3:44 to play.

But Murray State was game for a sprint to the finish line. The OVC squad got a triple from DaQuan Smith before Eaves knotted the score for the 10th time, 61-61, with a pair of free throws and then a layup with just under two minutes showing.

From there, Cook and the Bears had an answer for every outburst from the visitors. A traditional three-point play by Smith gave Murray a one-point advantage before Cook sank a pair of free throws at the 1:05 mark. The Racers nosed ahead on a dunk by Demond Robinson with 49 seconds left, but Cook then drained the biggest shot of the night with a long triple to give MSU a 68-66 advantage.

On Murray State’s next possession, the Bears got a defensive stop with Da Silva recording a huge rebound. Hall built the Bears’ lead to 69-66 on the ensuing free throw, but when his second attempt missed, it was Da Silva who grabbed the offensive rebound, and the Bears zipped the ball around the horn until it came to Cook. The senior from Baltimore took the foul and drained two big foul shots in the final four seconds to seal the win.

The Bears finished 25-of-55 (.455) overall from the field and 7-of-18 (.389) from long range. MSU was 12-of-13 (.923) at the line in the second half, including 7-of-7 from Cook, and finished the night 14-of-17 (.824) from the free throw line.

Missouri State out-rebounded Murray State by a narrow 37-36 margin and committed 14 turnovers, but just five in the second half.

Murray State was 22-of-59 (.373) overall from the field and 5-of-16 (.313) from three. The Racers stayed in the game with numerous free throw opportunities and finished 20-of-29 (.690) overall from the stripe, including 23 attempts in the second half.

The game featured eight lead changes, including six in the second half.

Missouri State continues its three-game home stand on Friday when the Bears take on Mississippi Valley State (0-7) at 7 p.m.

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