With the last game of the regular season, Murray State did what it’s been doing all season: rewrite the history books.
Junior guard Isaiah Canaan had 18 points to lead the No. 12/14 Racers to a 69-64 win over Tennessee Tech Saturday night and keep the Racers unbeaten on the road, the only Division I team in the country to do so this season. The undefeated on the road title was a first for the Racers in program history.
Junior forward Ed Daniel, senior guard Jewuan Long, senior forward Ivan Aska and freshman guard Zay Jackson each added 9 points to the win which made Murray State (28-1, 15-1 Ohio Valley Conference) the fourth team in OVC history to have only one loss on the season.
The Racers are the highest ranked team ever to play in the Eblen Center behind No. 15 Southern Miss on Dec. 6, 1990 when Tennessee Tech came out on top 84-78, this time the ending was different.
“It was just the resiliency of our kids to be able to play and compete,” Murray State Head Coach Steve Prohm said. “We’ve got a lot of character, a lot of toughness and a lot of resiliency and we’ve shown it all year and the second half just defensively we were just really good.”
Kevin Murphy led the game in scoring for the Golden Eagles (18-12, 9-7, OVC) with 26 points and went 7-for-12 behind the arc but it wasn’t enough to silence the Racers.
The score was tied eight times and changed hands 10 times, seven in the second half, in a hard fought battle between both teams.
“It wasn’t a pretty game for us,” Long said. “You’re going to have games like this sometimes but it shows our character through the bad times we find a way to get the job done and we’ve been doing that all season long and that just shows how tough we are.”
Canaan put the Racers on the board first after a minute and a half of scoreless play but a three pointer from Murphy answered him and the game continued in similar fashion, with each team matching the other nearly point for point.
The Racers led the game until Tennessee Tech got within one point on another three by Murphy to push the score to 9-8 but Canaan drained another three less than two minutes later to give the Racers a little breathing room.
Tennessee Tech’s Zach Bailey scored a three a minute later and again put the Golden Eagles within one point of the Racers, but
layups from Daniel and junior forward Stacy Wilson and a jumper by Jackson jumper increased the Racers lead 19-16.
The Golden Eagles turned the ball over with 23.6 seconds remaining in the half and at the buzzer, Daniel tipped in a rebound in after a jumper attempt by Canaan to take the Racers into the break down by four.
At the half Tennessee Tech outscored the Racers by 30 percent, going 7-for-10 at the line contrasted with Murray State’s 4-for10. The Golden Eagles also led in assists and steals while the Racers outrebounded Tech by seven in the first half.
“(At half time Coach Prohm) just told us this will show us what we’re made of and we wanted to come out and show everybody through thick and thin we can get the job done and I believe we showed people that tonight,” Long said.
Coming out of the break Long was fouled then made 1-of-2 attempts at the line before Murphy scored again to give the Golden Eagles a five point lead.
A missed dunk by Daniel a minute and a half into the half was answered by a three by Murphy before Daniel redeemed himself with a dunk with 17 minutes on the clock, but it wasn’t enough to retort Tennessee Tech sinking three after three.
The Racers appeared rattled and played sloppy during certain moments throughout the game including turning the ball over 15 times and going only 5-for-16 behind the arc contrasted with Tennessee Tech’s 10-19 behind the perimeter.
With two forceful hands to the chest, Dillard pushed junior guard Latreze Mushatt down and Prohm repeatedly asked officials to call a technical, but it wasn’t called.
At just more than 13 minutes on the clock, the Racers trailing by four and with Poole going to the line, Prohm wasn’t even watching his Racers but instead was crouched in front of the bench conversing with the assistant coaches. He returned his eyes to the game with Poole’s first free throw attempt sank into the net.
With 12:21 on the clock, Aska was fouled on a layup and made the And-1, putting the Racers within one point of Tech before Canaan was also fouled and made both free throws to give the Racers a one point lead before missing an attempt behind the arc, but Long grabbed the rebound and laid it up to send Murray State up 51-48 with 11:21 remaining.
Tennessee Tech led by a point with 8:30 remaining and Murray State missed an opportunity to take the lead when Daniel went to the line and lobbed the ball to miss both free throws.
Canaan followed Daniel’s attempts and made both shots at the line to make it a 61-60 game before Jackson was fouled and made both free throws to make it a 63-60 game. He returned to the line less than a minute later and made both free throws again, ending the night perfect at the line, giving the Racers a five-point lead before Tennessee Tech threw the ball out of bounds with just more than two minutes remaining.
With one minute to go the Racers led by one, Murphy missed a three to tie the game and Daniel is fouled and with 21.5 seconds to go the assistant coaches had to hold back Prohm who stepped out of his shoe while yelling at the officials for a timeout.
Daniel made one of two free throws to cushion the Racers lead to four points before Mushatt was fouled and went to the line to end the game making 1-of-2 free throws.
“We’ve had a lot of very good wins, a lot of special wins, but this one was a great one in it’s own way,” Prohm said. “To play here – It’s a great environment, another near sellout, a win on the road, Kevin Murphy is a great player who is playing extremely well. They have a great team.”
Murray State will now have a week off before playing in the semifinal round of the OVC Championship at 6 p.m. Friday in Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn.
“(The Racers) are competitors so they’re going to be ready to play, they’re going to try to win a championship,” Prohm said. “I told them, for our wall – we’ve got to protect a big city and we’ve got another phase of the wall to build and we do that by beating EKU, SEMO or Tennessee Tech on Friday night. Three very good teams because they all three very good matchups.”