The Murray State men’s basketball team had all but punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament Saturday night. With 20 seconds to go and a two-point lead, the Racers seemed poised to upset the regular season conference champion Belmont Bruins and capture the OVC Tournament crown.
Faced with two free throws to put the game out of reach, senior forward Ed Daniel missed both shots, giving the Bruins 20 seconds to save their championship hopes. Senior guard Kerron Johnson made the Racers pay. With nine seconds left, Johnson hit the game-tying basket to send the championship to overtime.
The Racers had yet another chance to capture the victory in overtime, but a costly botched dribble by Isaiah Canaan resulted in a turnover, giving the Bruins the ball with 25 seconds to play and a tie score.
“It was a mistake on my part,” Canaan said. “I was dribbling like regular but I guess my foot was in the way and it rolled off my foot.”
It was Johnson – the tournament’s most valuable player – who put the dagger in the Racers’ season. With one second to play, Johnson drove the lane and rose up to sink the game-winning basket.
“This one’s hard to stomach because we should’ve been able to close that game,” Head Coach Steve Prohm said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Just as they have all season, turnovers plagued the Racers Saturday night, and proved to be the difference in the game. Murray State turned the ball over a season-high 26 times, resulting in 27 Belmont points.
“Credit Belmont for their pressure and for the turnovers,” Prohm said. “That was a big key. We did a terrific job defending Belmont. How Belmont scored today was off turnovers and they got some easy baskets. When we got them down, they got some easy baskets.”
The loss may mark the end of the road for the program’s most successful senior class. While the team could conceivably earn an invitation to national postseason tournament, Prohm was hesitant to call that a likelihood.
“I don’t know if there is more basketball to be played,” he said. “I’m not sure. I’ll have to look and try to do my research to see if we’re going to get an NIT bid.”
With Canaan and Ed Daniel graduating in May, the Murray State basketball team will undergo significant changes before the 2013-14 season tips off.
Although the season ended in a disappointing fashion, Prohm remains proud of the progress the Murray State basketball program has made.
“There’s nothing like coaching at Murray State,” Prohm said. “The expectations and the pressure, it’s just like at a high-major university. … You’re expected to win, you’re expected to win championships, you’re expected to have great players. … Forget mid-major – it’s one of the best basketball programs.”
The 32 team field for postseason National Invitational Tournament will be announced March 15-17. If the Racers are selected, the first round games will be played March 19 and 20.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer.