The Racers have suffered some unexpected losses this season. Perhaps the most surprising came Thursday night as an 8-19 UT Martin team ended a 22-game losing streak against Murray State, defeating the Racers 69-68.
A dejected Steve Prohm expressed his unhappiness after the game.
“It’s unacceptable,” Prohm said, “unacceptable for me, unacceptable for (the players), my staff – it’s just unacceptable.”
The Skyhawks jumped out to a first-half lead, riding 60 percent shooting from 3-point range. Junior guard Mike Liabo led the team with 11 points, shooting 4-6 from the field and 3-4 from the 3-point line.
The Racers struggled to score, shooting 32 percent from the field and going 0-9 from 3-point range. Poor shooting paired with nine first-half turnovers sent the Racers to the locker room trailing 36-27.
“We dig ourselves a hole too much,” senior guard Isaiah Canaan said. “The way this year has been going, we can’t do that.”
Canaan responded in the second half, scoring 11 points in the first 5:14. A deep 3-pointer from Canaan tied the game at 40 with 14:46 to go. Needing a win to stay alive in the race for the final spot in the conference tournament, UT Martin pushed on, snagging six consecutive rebounds en route to a 13-5 run.
The Racers continued to chip away at the Skyhawk lead, riding strong plays from Canaan and Ed Daniel. Despite the resilient efforts from the senior duo, the Racers’ hopes looked bleak as Dexter Fields fouled Liabo, giving UT Martin a five-point lead with 1:11 to play.
Canaan had other plans, however, responding with a 3 of his own nine seconds later. Suddenly, the Racer deficit had shrunk to two with 1:02 to play. After a missed shot by Liabo, the Racers found themselves down by one with 23 seconds remaining to win the game.
Canaan drove the lane and missed a layup with 11 seconds to play. Daniel grabbed the rebound and was fouled coming down. Down one with two free throws, Daniel failed to convert on both of the shots, giving the ball back to the Skyhawks. The Racers never recovered.
Liabo sank two free throws down the stretch and Canaan saw his last-second heave bounce harmlessly off the back of the rim, ending the Racers’ chances for a comeback.
“I told (the players) I hate this feeling because I love those guys,” Prohm said. “That’s what I’m most sick about because I want them to experience something special, but you’ve got to get it done to do that.”
Canaan finished with 31 points, while Daniel tallied another double-double, scoring 19 points and racking up 12 rebounds. Despite the strong effort from the two leaders, it was the lack of production from the others that cost the Racers.
“It can’t just be those two guys,” Prohm said.
The role players struggled mightily. Stacy Wilson – the team’s third leading scorer – went 0-8 from the field, scoring just two points while turning the ball over five times. Dexter Fields struggled to score as well, making only one shot for two points.
This season has been one of ups and downs for the Racers as they’ve beaten high quality opponents such as St. John’s, Evansville, Belmont and South Dakota State. They’ve suffered equally as many bad losses, however, dropping games to Jacksonville State, Eastern Illinois and then tonight to the Skyhawks.
The Racers have just one game remaining to find some semblance of consistency before they enter post-season play next Friday at the OVC Tournament. If Canaan, Daniel and the four other seniors want to finish their final season with a second-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, they will have to win the conference tournament in Nashville, Tenn.
Canaan, who is putting the final touches on a record-setting career at Murray State, says there is no other option.
“I was just talking to them in the locker room and I told them we’ve got three more games to get to the tournament,” Canaan said. “We determine our own future. I told them I ain’t ready to be done and I’m sure they’re not ready to be done playing with me and the other seniors. We’ll figure it out. I refuse not to get to the tournament.”
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer.