Wednesday night Murray State had to do what none of their opponents this season could do:
Come from behind to win.
Junior guard Isaiah Canaan scored 20 points with three assists to lead Murray State to a 66-60 victory over Morehead State in Morehead to remain unbeaten.
Senior guard Donte Poole, current OVC Player of the Week, added 15 points, five rebounds and two steals to the win to keep the No. 10/12 (ESPN/AP) Racers as one of two remaining teams in NCAA D-I to stay undefeated, along with No. 1 Syracuse. Murray State is also the No. 1 team in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Poll for the first time in program history as well as OVC history.
The game marked the first time a ranked team has played in Johnson Arena, which opened Dec. 3, 1981, and the first time Murray State has won in Morehead in more than four years.
The Eagles led 37-31 at the half, which included a 10-0 run from Morehead and a sloppy half of missed free throws, poor defense and an overall lackluster performance for Murray State.
The Eagles dominated the Racers in the paint by 11.5 percent in the first half, but Canaan, who went 10-for-11 at the charity stripe, assured coach Steve Prohm he would come through in the second half.
“That means he’s very good, that’s what it means,” Prohm said. “I’m fortunate to coach very good players and very good people and that’s what I’ve learned from Coach Kennedy — with character, toughness and great ability the sky’s the limit. Isaiah, walking out of the locker room at half time said, ‘I know coach, I got you.’ He showed great poise the whole night.”
Morehead State Coach Donnie Tyndall was also impressed with Canaan.
“No question, he’s a great player,” Tyndall said. “I’ve told people before the game he’s Murray State’s point guard version of our Kenneth Faried a year ago, he’s probably the best mid-major point guard in America like Kenneth was the best mid-major big guy in America and he’s the guy who is going to have the ball in his hands every time down the floor. He’s a very talented guy because not only can he shoot it, he makes his teammates better. He gets to the foul line and doesn’t miss much from the line so (this win) is a credit, he’s a heck of a player. No doubt about it, he’d get my vote for Player of the Year.”
Prohm stayed true to the course set this season and did not call a time out in moments where other coaches might have.
“He trusts us,” Canaan said. “I always look at him from time to time like, ‘We’re alright, let us play through it,’ because there’s going to be times like this wherever we go and play at so he believes in us and he has a lot of trust in us to go out and still execute in all the circumstances that we go out and play with every night.”
With the clock glowing 11:57, Poole stole the ball on a turnover, ran the court and dunked to the applause of the few Murray State fans in attendance, decreasing the deficit to seven points.
It wouldn’t be until Poole, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, sank a three with less than eight minutes remaining in the game that Murray State would get its first lead since 25 seconds into the first half.
“We try not to think about the record, that’s just extra pressure,” Poole said. “We try to leave that to media and the critics to worry about the records. I think later in the second half when the lead got up to seven or eight it was kind of like, ‘aw, man, we were going to either dig in and pull it out or get our first loss,’ so I think it kind of played a part in our guys’ minds but we have to use that as motivation to push us to that next level and if things aren’t going right trying to figure it out and score in transition off our defense if our shots aren’t falling.”
The Racers sealed the win with free throws from Canaan and Poole, who had previously never experienced a win in Johnson Arena, in the last three minutes. The duo said they read and push each other on the court.
“If we’re down it’s kind of like a motivating thing,” Poole said. “We’ll be on defense and he’ll look at me and then clap or something so it’s kind of like a tandem, we just read each other sometimes so it’s kind of funny. It’s kind of weird. “We’ve been playing with each other the last three years now and especially this year now that I’m playing more now so it’s just in practice and in the games we’ve just got this little bond on the court. It’s good.”
Sophomore forward Drew Kelly led Morehead with 20 points, six rebounds and went 6-for-6 in the paint and at the line and went 2-for-2 behind the arc.
“Right now I’m more disappointed (than encouraged) but we are encouraged that we held with them,” Kelly said. “They are the best team in our conference, but we as a team feel like we should have won the game, but all credit goes to Murray State. They were the tougher team tonight and they just out-toughed us.”
Senior forward Ivan Aska, whose fractured hand is still bandaged, is expected to return no later than Jan. 28 against Eastern Illinois.
The unconquered Racers face Southern Illinois-Edwardsville at 7 p.m. Saturday without Aska and Stacy Wilson who will be in South Carolina due to a death in the family. The game will be shown on ESPNU.