The No. 4 seed Murray State made music in Nashville Thursday after winning their first OVC tournament game against No. 8 seed Austin Peay.
Led by junior forward Kyra Watson with a career high 23 points and eight rebounds, the Racers came out of a tough matchup with a 90-73 victory over the Governors in Municipal Auditorium.
“It feels good,” Murray State Head Coach Rob Cross said. “They’ve knocked us out of the tournament for two of the last three years. I think any time you look at Austin Peay and Murray State in any sport, it’s a huge rivalry in the conference so it’s good to be a part of that.”
Alongside Watson, starters for Murray State included senior guard Mallory Schwab, junior guard Tessa Elkins, redshirt sophomore guard Erica Burgess and senior forward Kayla Lowe.
The meeting with the Govs was the Racers’ third after losing the first two in the regular season and was in favor of Austin Peay from the start with a first attempt three point shot made by Austin Peay’s Leslie Martinez and a turnover by Murray State in the first 15 seconds of play.
A tight battle for the lead was short lived, with Austin Peay leading by as much as 14.
With 11:45 left in the first half, junior guard Mariah Robinson made her OVC Tournament debut with a three point shot to stop the Racers’ long scoring drought.
Strategy for both teams differed as the Govs successfully shot beyond the arc with Meghan BussaBarger and Martinez. Murray State kept its sites closer, shooting for just 38 percent outside the perimeter.
Digging themselves out of a hole, the Racers changed focus and shrunk a 14-point Govs lead to just one. They kept an offensive tactic in the paint with Watson close to the rim, finishing the half with 14 points.
“The effort that was given today, to come back from the deficit we were in makes me really proud of these ladies,” Cross said.
The sound of the buzzer signaling the end of the first half left Austin Peay bitter and determined with a closer game and their top scorer, Whitney Hanley, with two personal fouls.
A rejuvenated Racer team started the second half with a stronger drive by taking the lead with a three point shot by Burgess with 18:30 left to go.
After Murray State asserted its position on the offensive side of the ball, it was a back and forth game for both teams with one shot after another.
The Racers lost poise in exchange of keeping a two point lead. Lowe found herself in foul trouble with three at the 14-minute mark.
A seemingly effortless three-point shot by Robinson gave the Racers a five-point lead with 10 minutes left, leaving the Govs frazzled on offense.
“I think that a well-played game for me was well overdue,” Robinson said. “And there’s no better time to start playing with confidence and give it my all in my possibly last game of the year.”
A battle for the win stretched through the last five minutes of the game, with both teams in the bonus. Lowe was sent to the bench with four personal fouls as well as Bussabarger, who scored a career high 27 points for the Govs.
“We came into the game knowing that to come out successful we were going to have to defend and rebound,” Austin Peay Head Coach Carrie Daniels said. “We did not do that. Our defense, I felt, was very poor.”
Desperate fouls by Austin Peay gave Murray State free throws needed to take the victory.
“We played very unselfish on the stretch in the final 10 to 12 minutes,” Cross said. “And that really made a difference in the ball game.”
The Racers advance to play No. 1 seed UT-Martin at noon today.