A season full of ups and downs has been reduced to one simple concept for the Murray State men’s basketball team – win or go home.
The Racers finished their regular season schedule in disappointing fashion Saturday, dropping a 118-115 double overtime heartbreaker on the road at Southeast Missouri State.
Overcoming a six-point halftime deficit, junior guard T.J. Sapp sank a game-tying 3-point shot with 20 seconds left to force overtime.
In similar fashion, freshman guard Cameron Payne hit another three to tie it at 105 with 46 seconds left in overtime. Forty-two seconds later, however, Payne missed two free throws with four seconds left, sending the game to a second overtime period.
Payne’s misfortune continued into the second extra period, having his shot blocked with the Racers trailing by three. SEMO junior Nino Johnson sprinted down the court after Payne’s miss and emphatically dunked the ball to end the Racers’ chances to force another overtime.
“We just didn’t guard well,” Head Coach Steve Prohm said. “We had so many breakdowns and just weren’t in tune defensively. When we’ve played well, we’ve been in tune defensively, and we haven’t been this week.”
After suffering a back injury in the team’s previous game at UT Martin, junior forward Jarvis Williams was questionable for Saturday’s game a few hours before tipoff.
Murray State’s big man showed no lingering effects from the injury, scoring 25 points and racking up a game-high 15 rebounds.
Payne also scored 25 points while Sapp contributed 24 and sophomore forward Jeffery Moss tallied 22.
In spite of the loss at SEMO, the Racers’ 13-3 conference record earned them the top spot in the OVC West and a double-bye into the semifinal round of the OVC Tournament this weekend.
After a rough 2-5 start to the season, Murray State overcame significant inexperience to put together an impressive year.
Finishing with an 18-10 record, the Racers earned the program’s 26th consecutive winning season.
Now the Racers find themselves two wins away from earning the automatic NCAA Tournament berth awarded to the OVC Tournament champion.
“Nobody thought we’d be here,” Prohm said. “Everybody wrote us off a long time ago. I just told the guys that I’m proud of them from that standpoint.”
A huge part of the team’s success can be attributed to impressive seasons from two first-year players – Payne and Williams.
Payne ranked third among all freshmen in the nation with 5.4 assists per game. He also led the team in scoring and ranked inside the top ten in the conference with 15.9 points per game.
Williams is also new to Murray State, transferring from Gordon State College during the offseason. The 6-foot-8-inch big man ranked second in the OVC and ninth in the nation with 10.4 rebounds per game.
Both players were recognized Tuesday as the OVC released its annual all-conference awards, voted on by head coaches and sports information directors.
Payne was the only freshman named to the All-OVC First Team. Additionally, Payne was named OVC Freshman of the Year and was awarded a spot on the All-OVC Newcomer Team.
Williams joined Payne on the All-OVC Newcomer Team and was named to the All-OVC Second Team.
“I’m very pleased to see Cameron and Jarvis recognized by our league for the way they performed this season,” Prohm said. “They’re both very deserving of this honor. Both have handled themselves with humility all season.”
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer