After a dramatic victory over Eastern Kentucky in the semi-finals of the OVC Tournament, the Murray State Racers now find themselves one win away from reaching the NCAA Tournament.
The finals won’t prove any easier than the semi-finals, however, as the regular season conference champion Belmont Bruins await the Racers at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn.
The two teams met earlier in the season on February 7 at the CFSB Center. The Bruins entered the game undefeated in conference play, but went down after a late Isaiah Canaan 3-pointer ended a frantic Belmont comeback.
Aside from the game in Murray, the Bruins have been dominant in their first season as members of the OVC. Belmont boasts the league’s top offense and defense, scoring an average of 77.2 points per game while giving up just 63.6.
The Bruins rely on one of the best back courts in the league, featuring senior guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson. Clark shared co-OVC Player of the Year honors with Canaan, and both of the Belmont guards were named to the All OVC First Team.
Johnson and Clark carried the Bruins over the Tennessee State Tigers in the semi-finals Friday night. Clark took over the game in the second half, draining six three-pointers to end the Tigers’ season. Johnson scored 23 points to go along with seven assists.
Murray State will rely heavily on Canaan and Stacy Wilson to keep Johnson and Clark in check. The senior duo showed a strong defensive effort against Eastern Kentucky, holding All OVC First Team selection Mike DiNunno to 15 points and 36 percent shooting and All OVC Newcomer Glen Cosey to just three field goals and 25 percent shooting. It will likely take another stout defensive effort, especially from Canaan and Wilson, to contain the high-flying Bruins Saturday night.
Fouls could also play a decisive role in the championship matchup. The Racers’ second-leading scorer, senior Ed Daniel, played just 14 minutes in the victory over Eastern Kentucky after getting into foul trouble.
The Bruins forced 25 Tennessee State fouls Friday night, compared to just 12 called on Belmont. If the Racers,specifically Daniel and fellow big men Brandon Garrett and Latreze Mushatt, get into foul trouble early, it could severely hinder Murray State’s strong post presence.
With an OVC Tournament Championship and NCAA Tournament berth on the line, it’s sure to be an intense rematch between the top two teams in the conference. The game is scheduled to tip off at 6 p.m. at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer.