It all came down to the last five seconds.
After battling point for point with Tennessee State the entire game, Murray State was tied at 52 with the Tigers with four seconds left in the game when senior guard Jewuan Long made a floater to seal the win and Ohio Valley Conference championship title for the Racers.
Senior guard Donte Poole and junior guard Isaiah Canaan had 14 points each to lead No. 12 ranked Murray State (30-1) past Tennessee State 54-52 and give the Racers their 15th championship Saturday afternoon in Nashville, Tenn.
Poole was named the OVC Tournament’s Most Valuable Player, becoming the 11th player in Murray State OVC history to do so, and the Racers’ rookie Head Coach Steve Prohm became the fifth first year coach to win the OVC Tournament.
“I never thought I would get this,” Poole said. “The first three years were a little tough for me but this is a great feeling, all the hard work is finally paying off. I told the guys this MVP trophy wasn’t just for me, I wouldn’t be here without any of my teammates or coaching staff so this is a team trophy as well.”
Murray State has won their last five trips to the OVC Championship game following wins in 2010, 2006, 2004 and 2002 and this win placed the Racers within one win of tying the program record of 31 wins set by the 2009-10 team who were 31-5.
Tennessee State (20-12) was the only school to beat Murray State during the regular season, defeating them 72-68 in the CFSB Center on Feb. 9, then exactly two weeks later Murray State bested Tennessee State 80-62 on the Tigers’ home court.
In the post game press conference, after congratulating Tennessee State Head Coach John Cooper and Tennessee State on a great season and a first class championship game, Prohm thanked the OVC and then his beloved players.
“I want to congratulate our guys on showing resiliency throughout the course of this whole season and throughout the course of this game,” Prohm said. “These guys have won a bunch of games but we never broke our composure the whole night.”
Before the game started the Murray State coaches exchanged high fives and Prohm rose off the bench smiling and with a nod the starters joined him in a huddle for a few remarks seconds before tipoff.
The game began with missed threes on both sides before Robert Covington made a layup for the Tigers.
Both teams came into the game amped, matching the other play for play and dunk for dunk.
With a free throw, Long put the Racers on the board before senior forward Ivan Aska dunked two minutes into the game and placed Murray State ahead of the Tigers by one point.
Free throws by Poole gave the Racers their first lead before a Tennessee State layup put the Tigers back on top.
Aska tipped-in a ball on an attempt by Canaan and tied the game at nine points with 13:20 on the clock.
Five minutes later, Poole ended Murray State’s three-pointer drought by draining a three and putting the Racers on top by three until the Tigers again countered and made a layup making the score 19-18 in the Racers’ favor.
Less than a minute later, junior forward Brandon Garrett dunked but was followed by a dunk from Kellen Thornton of the Tigers
16 seconds later decreasing Murray State’s lead to one point.
The Racers led 29-27 at the half and the score had been tied eight times and the lead changed hands seven times. Murray State forced the Tigers to 12 turnovers in the first half, committing only six themselves, but were only 1-for-10 behind the arc. The Tigers outscored Murray State 20-14 in the paint.
Coming out of the break Tennessee State lit up the score board, making a layup, a jumper and a three pointer before Canaan gave Murray State its first points at the line at 16:23.
The Tigers continued to battle, gaining a seven-point advantage over Murray State at 15:01 before Long connected on a three for the Racers taking the score to 38-34.
Freshman guard Zay Jackson made a jumper at 12:02 before junior forward Latreze Mushatt stole the ball from the Tigers and passed to Jackson before making a layup on an assist from Jackson at 11:35 to put Murray State within two points.
The crowd, the second largest in OVC men’s basketball championship games when playing on a neutral site with 6,454, went wild with each point earned and with 10:12 remaining in the game Canaan connected with his first three of the game, followed by a layup by Jackson securing a 43-40 lead for the Racers and giving the Racer fans something to scream about.
Tennessee State wasn’t done, however. Coming back from a three point deficit, the Tigers led by seven with 5:31 left in the game and continued to match Murray State’s effort.
At 5:19 on the clock, Prohm called a timeout, talked to the team and applied Chapstick before the game went on. With play resuming, Poole drained a three on an assist by Canaan to push Murray State within four points of the Tigers’ lead.
Tennessee State’s M.J. Rhett dunked with 3:46 left and inched the margin a little further apart securing a four point lead until the Tigers ran out the shot clock giving the Racers the ball with 2:52 remaining.
Murray State junior forward Ed Daniel made a rebound 30 seconds later, passed to Long and Prohm yelled for them to get to the wings. Long passed to Aska who missed a jumper but gathered his own rebound and hooked the ball in before Prohm called another timeout with 1:49 on the clock and the Racers trailing by two.
“It was tough,” Aska said. “I was tired, but I told myself I had to fight through it because I’m one of the leaders on the team, I can’t break down, I can’t get frustrated. I wasn’t getting the ball, they were double-teaming me, some shots I missed, especially that shot I missed then got the rebound and got the hook. I just kept fighting through it and I told Coach we would be all right, we stuck together as a team and kept our composure.”
Less than 50 seconds later, Daniel was fouled and went to the line. The forward who shoots 50 percent from the line, made both free throws to tie the game and send the crowd of Racer fans into screams of exhilarating joy.
After the free throws, the Tigers turned the ball over and Poole ran the floor and passed to Long who made the game-winning shot with four seconds remaining in the game at which time every person representing Racer Nation in Municipal Auditorium was on their feet cheering.
The Tigers called a full timeout followed by a 30 second timeout before play resumed and Tennessee State’s Covington missed a three pointer with less than a second left which would have given the Tigers the win.
“I’m so happy right now, I’m not going to make no sense,” Aska said. “We did everything we can and it’s crazy because I was telling Jewuan, ‘Jewuan, I’m going to need you, like seriously. I’m not hitting shots, they’re double-teaming me, so I’m going to need you.’ And I told him, ‘Whatever it is, I hope you do your best ever,’ and he did.”
Mushatt said he and the rest of the team had complete confidence in Long.
“Oh I knew it was good, that’s his favorite shot,” Mushatt said. “I have to guard him a lot in open gym and I knew what he was doing and he’s always making that shot and he hit it and everybody on our team believes in one another and when he went up we all knew it was going in.”
Prohm never lost faith in his starter, either.
“Jewuan has made big shots for us all season long,” Prohm said. “He’s a fifth year senior, has won two state championships, he’s won three conference championships, I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He hadn’t made a lot of shots all night but that’s his shot.”
With the Racers victory, Murray State is given an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, which begins March 13. A Selection Sunday Party will be held in Lovett Auditorium on March 11, with more details coming soon.
Photos by Ryan Richardson/The News