With their season on the line, the Murray State Basketball Team mounted a late second-half comeback in the semifinal round of the OVC Tournament Friday night.
After Murray State tied the game with 1:33 to go, freshman Cameron Payne took a game-tying 3-point shot at the buzzer, but the ball missed its mark and the Racers’ season ended in an 86-83 defeat at the hands of the Eastern Kentucky Colonels.
It was a rocky start for the Racers, who struggled defensively through the majority of the first half. The Colonels took advantage, shooting 66 percent from the field en route to a 46-37 halftime lead.
“We just weren’t locked in early,” Head Coach Steve Prohm said. “You can’t play in a championship level game allowing them to shoot 60 percent from the field.”
The Racers increased the pressure after halftime and began chipping away at the Eastern Kentucky lead. By the 6:22 mark, Prohm’s team cut the deficit to four.
Eighty-two percent free throw shooting and strong rebounding kept the Racers in the game. Foul trouble hurt the team in a big way, however, as Payne, Sapp and Fields were all forced to spend time on the bench with four fouls.
Despite the foul trouble, junior T.J. Sapp finally pulled the Racers back even when he sank a deep 3 to tie the game at 79 with 1:33 to play.
The Colonels responded, however, pushing the lead back to five as the clock ticked down with less than one minute to go.
The Racers never recovered. The final blow came when Colonels’ junior Corey Walden stole the ball from junior Jonathan Fairell and took it down the court for an easy layup to push the lead to five.
Payne hit a jump shot to pull the Racer back within three, but after trading fouls and free throws, sophomore guard Jeffery Moss took a shot at the game-tying three. His shot missed but Fairell grabbed the rebound and kicked it out to Payne for one final look at the buzzer.
The freshman’s shot banged off the rim and the team’s season came to a disappointing end.
“It was a tough game,” Prohm said. “Credit (Eastern Kentucky), we weren’t very good in the first half but (Eastern Kentucky) had a lot to do with it. When you play them you have to be very detail oriented, and we weren’t.”
With then end of the season also comes the end of senior Dexter Fields’ career. Junior Jarvis Williams said he was disappointed with the way Fields career came to a premature end.
“It’s very tough, knowing that we’re losing one of our best friends,” Williams said. “That’s the most hurtful thing for me. I just wanted to do this for him, more than anything.”
The Racers will now wait to see if they are extended an invitation to a postseason tournament. Though they will not be in the NCAA Tournament field, their 18-11 record may be enough to warrant another postseason tournament invite.
Regardless of whether the Racers receive a chance to play another game this season, Prohm’s summary of Friday night’s loss was simple.
“This should bother them,” Prohm said. “It should really eat at them because we weren’t our best tonight. Eastern Kentucky was very good and they just whipped us tonight.”
Eastern Kentucky and Belmont will play for the OVC Tournament championship and NCAA Tournament berth today at 6 p.m..
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer
Photos by Fumi Nakamura