Tennessee State was the only team to beat Murray State this season. It just so happens that they would meet again in the Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game on Saturday here in Nashville, Tenn.
Although the Racers won the second matchup, could lightning strike twice, and the Tigers pull off another victory, and secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament?
For a good portion of the game it seemed that way, until guard Jewuan Long saved the day.
Long’s layup with 4.4 seconds left capped a seven point rally in the final 5:28, giving Murray State (30-1) a 54-52 victory over Tennessee State (20-12), in front of 6,454 crazed fans at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium.
The Tigers had one last shot at the win though. Junior forward Robert Covington’s long three-pointer at the buzzer couldn’t fall, and the celebration was on for Murray State after that.
Along with the win comes the Ohio Valley Conference championship, and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Junior guard and OVC Player of the Year Isaiah Canaan led the Racers with 14 points, and showed why he is one of THE most explosive players in college basketball.
He didn’t have the best shooting game (4-13), but what he lacked in shooting percentage, he made up in leadership, court vision and ball distribution.
Canaan was double-teamed on that final possession, but used that vision to find a cutting Long for the winning score.
“All the credit definitely goes to my teammates for this win,” Canaan said. “We’re gonna try and ride this train as long as we can.”
The Racers didn’t shoot particularly well in the game, especially in the first half. They were 9-26 in the first 20 minutes, including 1-10 from three-point range, and had a slim 29-27 lead at halftime.
Murray State ended up shooting 38-percent for the game.
The Tigers shot 46-percent in the first half, and out-rebounded the Racers 19-13 going into halftime.
They’d end up shooting 47-percent overall.
Their Achilles Heel the entire game though was turnovers, which Murray State took full advantage of. Tennessee State had 18 giveaways, which led to 15 Murray State points, 15 big points that cost them the title, and possibly an NCAA berth in the process.
Covington led the Tigers with 14 points. Guard Kellen Thornton had 11 points and eight rebounds for Tennessee State.
Racers head coach Steve Prohm also spoke with us afterwards, and said he doesn’t care where he and his team go in the “Big Dance.”
“I don’t really care,” said Prohm. “I’d love to be in Nashville just for our fans, Louisville at worst. We’ve got one of the best programs in college basketball.”
I can say, sitting courtside doing the national radio broadcast of the game, that this was one of THE best college or pro games I have ever witnessed firsthand.
The energy and intensity those young men displayed for those 40 minutes was amazing!
It was a clean game and extremely well played game, once both teams shook off the nervousness early on and settled in.
We will see how far the Racers will run during March Madness. No matter what happens, a 30-1 season is an incredible achievement for the program.