Murray State likes beating teams ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press polls.
Junior guard Isaiah Canaan had 23 points, four assists, a block and three rebounds to give No. 16 Murray State a 65-51 win over No. 21 Saint Mary’s Saturday night.
The game marked the Racers (26-1, 13-1 Ohio Valley Conference) first win over a ranked team since then No. 21 Memphis on Dec. 11 and the first time Murray State has beaten a ranked team in their building since Jan. 23, 1971 when they defeated No. 7 Western Kentucky.
It was the third-ever meeting between the two teams and the first time Murray State won over the Gaels (23-5, 12-2 West Coast Conference), Saint Mary’s won both previous games in 2004 and 2006.
“I’ve been picturing this,” Aska said. “I thought it was going to be a tough game, a close game, but because we were together as a team, more like a family, we did everything we could and came out with the W.”
Senior day honored graduating manager Brandon Wiesemann and senior players, forward Ivan Aska and guards Jewuan Long and Donte Poole in a pregame ceremony where they were presented a framed jersey and plaque with letters written on the back from the coaches.
After the win there was another ceremony, this time with even more to celebrate, as the three seniors became the most winningest class in Murray State history.
The team and audience was addressed by Prohm and Athletic Director Allen Ward before Ward handed the microphone to OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche who presented the OVC regular season championship trophy to the eager Racers.
After a few photos were snapped, Prohm summoned the seniors and their families back on the floor and directed their attention to the video boards where former head coach Billy Kennedy spoke to the team, congratulating them on the win and encouraging them on the future.
“Congratulations to the team,” Kennedy said. “I’m really proud of Donte, Jewuan and Ivan and what they’ve been able to accomplish at Murray State. They all three have great character, great unselfishness and humility, all principles it takes to be successful and that’s why they’ve had a successful run. It’s amazing what God can do when everybody buys in to what needs to be done to do special things. And Prohm, congratulations to you and go Racers.”
Prohm followed up the video by commending the team and the fans once more before the Racers cut down the nets.
“Coach Kennedy said it: it’s amazing what God can do,” Prohm said. “We talked a lot this season about staying on our wall and I’ve had so many people emailing us that they were praying for our team and we really appreciate that. We’ve talked about how phase one of our wall has been built, that was our regular season conference championship, phase two of our wall was built today, being undefeated in nonconference, phase three of our wall will be completed down in Nashville and phase four – the NCAA Tournament.”
After the game, Long described the night as crazy.
“To be able to go out like this, in front of sold out crowds for the last I don’t know how many games, then you’ve got two ranked teams going head-to-head and we come out on top in front of Dickie V.,” Long said. “I don’t know how many teams will be able to say they did that in their career. I’m just blessed to be able to go out like this.”
The team won their 26th game of the season, but something else about the night resonated within Prohm.
“What I enjoyed the most was the seniors and calling them out one more time,” Prohm said after the game. “They deserve it. They’re the winningest class in the history of the school. But when you’re a first year head coach and you’ve got guys like Ivan, Donte and Jewuan that got your back you’ve got a chance to be really good. I can’t give enough credit to those guys – they’ve been unbelievable and I’ll never be able to pay them back.”
Poole scored his 11 points in the first half, adding six rebounds, two assists and two blocks as well as going 3-for-5 from behind the arc the rest of the game. The senior also got to shoot around with the legendary commentator Dick Vitale before the game.
“That was great,” Poole said. “I just happened to be out here when he came in and the first thing he did was come over and grabbed the ball and we started talking a little bit. It was a great feeling, he’s a great guy.”
The first half of the game was dominated by Poole who scored the first five points of the game within two minutes before Aska made a bucket and Canaan scored his first three of the night, received by an uproar of applause from the 8,825 people in attendance.
The Racers might have controlled the first half, but it wasn’t perfect. Junior forward Latreze Mushatt missed a basket, at 17:47 Long couldn’t find a teammate to pass the ball to from out of bounds so he called a timeout and Canaan missed a three and turned the ball over while dribbling. But from the first layup by Poole 43 seconds into the game to the buzzer after 40 minutes, the Racers never turned over the lead.
With 8:17 remaining in the first half following Saint Mary’s tying the score the only time all night, the Racers shifted on the floor after Prohm yelled directions from the bench. The directions set freshman guard Zay Jackson in the perfect position to sink a three and give Murray State the lead 20-17.
Four minutes later Canaan drained a three of his own while being pushed down by Gaels’ Rob Jones who picked up his third foul. Canaan went to the line and missed the And-1.
Long kicked in the door of opportunity with a layup and 3:28 on the clock to give the Racers a 30-23 lead.
“This (win) is definitely a confidence builder for sure,” Long said. “It’s a ranked team so it lets you know that you are as good as the rankings say you are. It gives us confidence to know that we can play with other teams in bigger conferences so we definitely have more confidence.”
Murray State led 34-25 at the half.
Canaan and junior forward Ed Daniel gave Murray State an 11-point lead after connecting on layups to start the second half.
Less than two minutes later, Long took a shot only to watch as the ball swirled around the top of the basket before falling in to give the Racers a 40-27 lead.
“We’ve had some slippage (rebounding) and we’re out here playing a team like Murray State, they’re a very good team,” Saint Mary’s Coach Randy Bennett said. “And they’ll expose that, their guards are good, their inside players are better than people think. They don’t really have any big holes, I don’t think. They shoot the ball well, they rebound well, so against those kind of teams, if you’re not doing things right, you’ll get exposed. I thought we played all right the first half. The second half, we didn’t. Credit them, they’re a good team, they played well, they shot the ball well, but I don’t think we did what we need to do to make it difficult for them.”
Aska forced himself into the paint for a layup and Jackson connected in the paint as well before Canaan made his third three of the night with 12:37 to go.
With 9:22 glowing on the scoreboard, Canaan passed to junior Brandon Garrett who dunked and gave Murray State a game-high19-point lead over the Gaels before a technical was called and Saint Mary’s junior guard Matthew Dellavedova made both free throws.
Garrett redeemed himself seconds later by stealing and driving the ball down the court before being fouled. Prohm appeared to try and contain a smile as he motioned for Garrett to slow down. Garrett missed both attempts at the line.
After a foul was called on Aska, Prohm, squatting in front of the bench, held his hands up in question before standing and waving his hands at the officials for an explanation. It didn’t come.
Canaan lit up the second half scoring 17 of his 23 points after the break including three three-pointers with one coming in at 4:33 left in the game, followed by a steal and breakaway slam by Aska to give the Racers a 61-46 lead.
“I’m very excited,” Canaan said. “(The seniors) did a great job all season keeping this team together, showing leadership and for them to go out the way they did with a great environment against a great team, it couldn’t get no better than this.”
Another jumper by Canaan at the two minute mark pushed the score to 65-47 and with 15 seconds left junior forward Stacy Wilson passed the ball to Mushatt who ran out the clock and threw the ball in the air to the deafening roar of the excited home crowd.
“(Saint Mary’s) is great, no doubt about it, and I wish them luck in their conference,” Aska said. “But it showed us that we could show the nation that we really can do it. We might not have no 7-footers or 6-foot-9 guys, but we just do what we have to do to win.”
The Racers return to conference play Thursday at Tennessee State.
“We’ve got to go into the next conference game strong,” Poole said. “We can’t let this win carry over and make us sluggish or slow and get upset again, so we’ve got to keep pushing and stay focused.”