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James just shy of triple-double, Racers pelt Panthers, 92-74

By EDWARD MARLOWE emarlowe@paducahsun.com

MURRAY -- An upstart Eastern Illinois squad and a missing teammate did little to slow Murray State during a Wednesday matinee at the CFSB Center.

Junior hybrid Ke'Shunan James continued her stellar season with a near triple-double (23 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists), LeAsia Wright poured in a game-high 24 points, Bria Bethea came off the bench for 16 points, five assists and four rebounds -- and the Racers dropped the Panthers 92-74.

The Racers, now 11-6 and 3-1 in Ohio Valley Conference action, were without ailing starting guard Jasmine Borders, who has averaged 10.2 points per game and leads the team in steals (22).

But with their speedy guard "Jazz" missing from the lineup, the music kept coming. Murray State would notch an assist on 14 straight baskets to start the contest and led 45-33 at halftime, and by the end came away with 23 team assists on 32 shots.

"Moving the ball. That's all we've got to do," James noted of the effort. "Run your offense. Move the ball and it's going to open up. If you move the ball, the defense is finally going to have a breakdown."

It's the kind of ball reversal the Racers have been capable this season, and after a 31 percent shooting effort this past weekend in a loss at Tennessee Tech, head coach Rob Cross admitted it was a great rebound for a team trying to stay in the mix at the top of the conference.

"I'm really excited about the way that we came in locked in and focused from the beginning of the game," he said. "It was a good bounce back game from our performance at Tech.

"Tonight, I felt like we responded really well to every little mini-run that they went on, and we responded well to the different things that we did with our scout and what we defensively asked of them."

The Panthers fell to 1-4 in conference play this season, but were hardly dismissed by the Racers. Last week, EIU lost to Eastern Kentucky (6-10, 3-0 OVC) in overtime and has close losses to defending champion Belmont and a stout Morehead State.

Panthers point guard Grace Lennox came into the contest averaging 30.5 ppg last week, but was held to 15 points, five assists and five turnovers on 6-for-13 shooting, while EIU committed 20 turnovers and could only watch as the Racers broke in transition for 29 points off those miscues.

Murray State's offense didn't miss a beat with Borders on the pine, as the Racers shot 47.8 percent from the floor, 35.7 percent from the arc and 85.7 percent from the charity stripe.

"When one player is down, we've all got to step up," Bethea said after her all-around performance. "Not just me, but the whole team. We all have to fill that void when Jasmine is missing, so it was a whole team effort tonight to get the team win."

EIU would use a 7-0 run in the middle of the fourth quarter to get within single digits, 77-68, but the Racers responded. Two layups from James, a triple from Wright and a jumper from Bethea pushed the advantage to 86-72 with less than two minutes left in the contest.

Sitting in the top third of the conference, the Racers now hit the road for four of the next five contests, starting with a Sunday noon matchup at SIU Edwardsville.

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