After rewriting the history books all season long, No. 12 Murray State did it again in the first game of the NCAA Tournament.
Junior guard Isaiah Canaan scored 15 points and had seven rebounds to lead No. 6 seeded Murray State to a 58-41 victory over No. 11 seeded Colorado State, making Head Coach Steve Prohm the first rookie coach in program history to win his first game in the NCAA Tournament out of the four other first year coaches who made it to the Big Dance.
The game marked the Racers’ 15th appearance in the tournament and the team is now 3-14 since its first time in the big dance in 1964 after winning games in 1988 against North Carolina State and in 2010 upset Vanderbilt with a buzzer beater by Danero Thomas, who now works and travels with the team.
The win gave Murray State 31 wins on the season and tied the program record set in the 2009-10 season when Billy Kennedy’s Racers were 31-5.
Kennedy was in attendance, which meant a lot to Prohm – who served as assistant under Kennedy for 13 years – and Kennedy’s former players.
“It always feels good to see your former coach come down and support you,” Canaan said. “We’ve been supporting him whenever he played all season long and for him to come down and watch us compete in the NCAA Tournament is a great feeling.”
The win was Murray State’s fifth this season over teams in the tournament, the other four wins came over Southern Miss, Western Kentucky, Memphis and Saint Mary’s.
“I congratulate Murray State on the victory,” Colorado State Tim Miles said. “I thought their team defense the second half was outstanding. Their physicality, I think, got us off the attack.”
Murray State forced the Racers to 14 turnovers in 35 possessions and Miles said the Rams didn’t give themselves a chance.
“Not only that, I think we shot poorly, but I think we shot poorly because of Murray’s intensity,” Miles said. “It just got us off the attack and we played tentative the whole second half.”
The first half of the game, which opened tournament play, displayed both teams fighting to get locked in. The Rams got the ball at the tip and Pierce Hornung put Colorado State on the board with two buckets within the first 30 seconds.
But it was senior guard Donte Poole, a former Colorado State signee, who put the Racers on the board, scoring the first eight points for Murray State.
With 9:39 on the clock, junior forward Stacy Wilson drained a three-pointer giving the boys in the blue and gold the lead for the first time all game. Wilson then grabbed a rebound and freshman guard Zay Jackson made a layup to increase the Racers lead to 16-13 before junior forward Ed Daniel secured a jumper and pushed the Racers’ run to 8-0.
Despite the run, Murray State trailed 24-23 at the break but came out of halftime with more momentum and drive.
“It wasn’t a pretty game in the first half,” Prohm said. “We talked to the team about it in the second half and we talked about it at halftime that we had one steal, only had nine deflections. That wasn’t our style of basketball.”
Canaan opened the second half with a dunk on an assist by senior guard Jewuan Long to give Murray State a one point lead as the Racers turned up the energy in the second 20 minutes. The Racers never trailed again.
Less than three minutes into the second half, Poole went to the floor holding his nose then left the game with a bloody and broken nose.
Colorado State’s Pierce Hornung, who led the Rams in rebounding with 17 and scoring with 12 points, made a layup 3:54 minutes into the half after which the Rams didn’t score for nine minutes.
“You’ve got to credit them,” Colorado State’s Jesse Carr said. “I think they have 30 wins on the regular season for a reason and they were able to show that today.”
Jackson, coming off the bench to sub for Poole, made a jumper and defensive rebound before stealing the ball to sink a three and push the Racers to a 39-26 lead with 12:39 on the clock.
“I was proud (of our bench),” Prohm said. “Zay was terrific, he’s been great for us. He’s grown and matured throughout the season … He’s probably grown the most as a person and a player among the 14 players that we’ve had.”
The Racers ended the game scoring nine of its last 13 points off free throws. Despite those points, Murray State shot only 50 percent from the line and, though ranked sixth in three-point percentage, went 13-for-26 and had a 14.3 percent in the second half.
“I thought our toughness level the second half was tremendous to hold them to 17 points, hold them to 41 points, 33 percent defensive field goal percentage, 21 percent from three. Ivan was diving on loose balls – I loved our toughness and energy.”
The Racers will have a closed practice tomorrow at noon before facing Marquette Saturday, time to be determined.
“It always feels good to get a great win against a good opponent in the NCAA Tournament,” Canaan said. “We got the same mind frame going into the next round, try to take one game at a time.”