Before the game even started, Murray State Head Coach Steve Prohm had a prediction.
“Coach told Donte he was going to shoot the ball well, which is kind of weird, but that’s what he did,” senior forward Ivan Aska said.
Senior guard Donte Poole scored 25 points and had four rebounds to give No. 14/16 Murray State a 75-66 win over Southeast Missouri State Wednesday night in Cape Girardeau, clinching the third consecutive Ohio Valley Conference regular season title for the Racers and remaining the only unbeaten Division I team on the road.
Poole’s performance released him from the slump he’s has been in the last few games.
“I don’t ever look at it as a drought,” Poole said. “I’m going to shoot the ball the same way to make it, I just wasn’t making shots so I shot the ball the same way I always shoot it but today it just happened to fall. I got my feet and legs under me a little more than I usually do so that got me in the flow and I kind of got going early and then my teammates just found me so a lot of credit goes to them, they got it to me and I just made the shot.”
Aska added 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds to the Racers’ victory, followed by senior guard Jewuan Long and junior forward Ed Daniel with 10 points.
Murray State (25-1, 13-1 OVC) is the first ever nationally ranked team to play in the Show Me Center and leads the series between the two teams 49-17 dating back to 1931. Since 2003, the Racers are 8-1 at SEMO (14-12, 9-5), with the only loss coming last year when SEMO had a 64-57 win last February. Most recently, Murray State defeated the Redhawks 81-73 in the CFSB Center Feb. 2.
“I credit Murray State, they’re a really, really good basketball team,” SEMO Head Coach Dickie Nutt said. “They’re well coached, they don’t give you anything. We had to earn everything that we did, we couldn’t really get tired of going and that hurt us a little bit but I thought the first 10 minutes you saw, in my opinion, the two best defensive teams in the league.”
The game marked the first of four consecutive senior nights for the team; the Racers’ will be Saturday against Saint Mary’s.
“We wanted this championship bad and we didn’t want to drag this thing out, we talk about stay on our wall, well the first phase of our wall is built, but our wall needs to be bigger than one section.” said Prohm
The first half featured the Racers struggling offensively being unable to connect with the basket during the first five minutes, despite the hiccups, the team locked in and executed well the rest of the game.
Free throws from Aska put the Racers on the board four and a half minutes into the game followed a minute later with Daniel securing a layup.
Less than eight minutes into the game Poole sinks his first three to give Murray State the lead, a layup by Long with 7:40 remaining gave the Racers a four point cushion and they never looked back.
Poole had three more threes before the half was over, including one shot off-balanced with 53 seconds remaining giving the Racers a 12- point lead, the biggest margin of the game.
Freethrows by Redhawks guard Marland Smith sent the Racers into the break leading by 10.
At half time the Racers were 5-for-10 from the arc, with Poole going 4-for-5 and Canaan 1-for-3 contrasting with the Redhawks who was 0-for-5. The Racers shot 50 percent from the three, 40.7 percent in the paint, had six turnovers and forced the Redhawks, who was only shooting 26.7 percent in the paint, to seven.
Less than two minutes into the second half, and with the Redhawks down by 11, SEMO fans began chanting ‘overrated’ before Smith sunk back-to-back threes.
With 16:51 on the scoreboard Long ended the Racers’ scoreless streak with an air-defying layup followed by SEMO running the ball before Poole deflected a pass and laid it in the basket. Less than a minute later Daniel dunked and pushed the Racers lead to 39-28.
Two minutes later a jumper by Long gave the Racers a 10 point lead. With 13:19 on the clock, Long swiveled in the paint, avoiding the SEMO defense, and made a layup to take the Racers lead to 12.
With 4:19 on the clock, Canaan picked up his third foul and Prohm, crouched beside the bench, lost balance and reset himself before putting his hands on his lowered head.
A jumper by Poole took Murray State’s lead to 11 with 3:55 left in play. A three pointer from Redhawks’ Lucas Nutt answered Poole’s effort but two minutes later a layup attempt by Long was tipped in by Daniel and the Racers led 65-55.
The last minute and a half showcased Poole stealing the ball, making freethrows and a handful of fouls from both sides.
With 18.8 seconds remaining and with freshmen guard Zay Jackson at the line for the Racers Murray State fans began chanting ‘OVC’. Jackson made 1-of-2 free throws to give the Racers a nine-point lead and sealed the triumph.
During a timeout with six seconds remaining, Prohm smiled and high-fived the team before giving instructions for their final seconds on the court.
“It’s a nice feeling,” Poole said. “From the beginning of the season we always said we want a ring, we want to play for a purpose, we don’t want to just be out there playing with nothing to show for it so clinching (the outright OVC season title) is great but we have more to accomplish. We can’t settle here and become complacent, we’ve got to stay hungry but remain humble and continue the job that we started.”