Fighting to continue their season and Murray State careers, the Racer seniors stepped up Friday night in the semi-final game of the OVC Tournament to defeat Eastern Kentucky 81-73 and advance to the championship game tomorrow night against Belmont.
“I’m extremely proud of our guys,” Head Coach Steve Prohm said. “(Eastern Kentucky) beat us up pretty good earlier in the year and our guys did a great job of responding. Our seniors had great leadership and now we’re 40 minutes from our goal.”
Murray State finished the regular season with two straight home losses to UT Martin and Southeast Missouri. Needing to rebound from the bad losses, Prohm said he was proud for the way his players responded.
“Our guys are really focused,” Prohm said. “I’ve got great kids through all the great wins and all the tough losses this year. These kids haven’t changed who they are and what they’re about. That’s why we’re playing tomorrow.”
Strong play from seniors Isaiah Canaan, Brandon Garrett and Stacy Wilson led the Racers to a 81-73 victory over a Colonels team which throttled Murray State earlier in the season at the CFSB Center. Canaan scored a game-high 29 points while Wilson chipped in 17 and Garrett tallied 11 points and six rebounds.
Murray State’s five seniors combined to score 71 of the Racers’ 81 points, and helped outshoot the Colonels 58 percent to 39 percent.
Canaan also added to his already impressive resume Friday night as he became just the sixth Murray State player to score 2,000 career points. Additionally, Canaan passed Murray State legend Howie Crittenden for fifth on the all-time scoring list.
“It’s a great honor to be in the record books and I just thank God for giving me the chance to play the game I love and Murray State for giving me the opportunity to showcase my talents,” Canaan said. … I always give (my teammates) the credit and without them I wouldn’t be the player that I am.”
Canaan must still lead his team to one more victory if he plans to make his third trip to the NCAA Tournament, however, as Belmont stands between Murray State and the tournament championship.
On Feb. 7, the Racers defeated Belmont at the CFSB Center in the teams’ sole regular season matchup. Murray State controlled much of the game, but nearly gave it away at the end as Belmont mounted a furious comeback. A late Canaan 3-pointer sealed the win for the Racers’ however, and Belmont will now look to avenge the loss tomorrow night.
Canaan believes the difference tomorrow will not be in the scoring, but rather the defense.
“We just have to go out and play well on the defensive end,” Canaan said. “Defense wins championships and that’s the game we’re in tomorrow, so we’ve just got to go in with a defensive mindset.”
If the Racers can complete the sweep of Belmont tomorrow, they will earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season, and third time in four years. Though the stakes were high Friday night, they only continue to grow higher as the Racers’ seniors fight to extend their seasons.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer.