The men’s basketball team made sure history wouldn’t repeat itself Saturday night.
In last year’s Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, the Racers fell in the semifinal game to Tennessee Tech in a 64-59 upset. This year, things were different.
Senior guard Donte Poole led the team with 25 points, seven rebounds and four assists to take No. 12 Murray State (29-1) to a 78-58 win over Tennessee Tech (19-13) in the semifinal round of the OVC Conference Tournament in Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn.
“I’m very proud about our guys focus and effort especially on the defensive end of the floor,” Murray State Head Coach Steve Prohm said. “To hold a team that averages 70-75 points a game to 58 points, I thought that was the difference in the game.”
Junior guard Isaiah Canaan added 28 points to the Racers victory.
Murray State had previously bested Tennessee Tech twice earlier in the year, defeating the Golden Eagles 82-74 in Murray and 69-64 in Cookeville last Saturday.
Starting off slowly, the first half showed the Racers missing jumpers and three-point attempts, but senior guard Jewuan Long put Murray State on the board with their first non-free throw points with 16:21 on the clock to give the Racers a 4-2 lead.
Tennessee Tech’s Kevin Murphy scored 31 of Tech’s 58 points single-handedly but it wasn’t enough to stop Murray State.
“I think last year playing first helped us but I think this year it might have hurt us,” Tennessee Tech Head Coach Steve Payne said. “(Murray State is) good and they’re ranked what they’re ranked for a reason. I don’t know how you can look at them and not say that they’re a great basketball team and honestly the best team in our conference in the 10 years I’ve been here based on what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished. That’s a fine team and a fine bunch of players, so there is no shame in losing to Murray State.”
Murray State went into the break on top 37-30, shooting 50 percent from the floor and forcing Tennessee Tech to seven turnovers.
Tennessee Tech’s Jud Dillard scored first coming out of break before junior forward Ed Daniel dunked on a rebound taking the score to 39-34 less than a minute into the half. Tech answered with a dunk of its own before Bassey Inameti dunked for Tennessee Tech 27 seconds later.
Daniel dunked again with 16:09 on the clock with an assist by freshman guard Zay Jackson.
Threes from Canaan, steals from Jackson and a dunk by Poole rounded out the second half as they played in front of a sea of gold as Racer fans packed in the house and outnumbered the Tennessee Tech fans by more than half. The 5,142 in attendance was the largest crowd since the 1999 title game when 5,213 saw Murray State beat SEMO.
“It’s always great to see fans make the trip from home to see us play,” Poole said. “I think it helps us tremendously having that fan support there, it boosts you up, they’re chanting, you hear them screaming at a bad call and it makes you want to play that much harder.”
Jackson zipped around Tech a few times before securing a layup with just under two minutes left in play pushing the Racers to a 77-58 lead before junior forward Brandon Garrett made a free throw to seal the win.
The win propelled Murray State into the championship round of the tournament tomorrow at 1 p.m. against either Morehead State or Tennessee State.
Photos by Ryan Richardson/The News