With 14 seconds to play, senior guard Dexter Fields walked off the court of the CFSB Center for the last time as a Racer.
Less than a minute later, he was a national champion.
Despite a poor shooting performance, the Racers beat Yale 65-57 in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship. Though it wasn’t quite the Big Dance, Fields said the tournament still means a lot to the team. Fields thanked his teammates for the success.
“We worked hard for this,” he said. “I just want to credit my teammates for coming out here and laying it on the line for me. These guys wanted to finish and play with me, and that’s something I’ll always remember.”
His fellow players weren’t his only support, though.
When Fields lifted the tournament trophy over his head after the game, tears came to his eyes as the stadium echoed with the chant, “Thank you, Dexter,” from Racer Nation.
“It kind of brought a tear to my eye, but I had to hold it in,” Fields said. “These fans have been nothing but incredible to me.”
He wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.
“Never underestimate the chance to be a champion,” he said.
The Racers got that chance despite a loss in the semifinal round of the OVC Championships to Eastern Kentucky. After missing out on the NCAA Tournament, the team accepted a bid to the CIT.
Sophomore Jeffery Moss said it gave the Racers a chance to send Fields out on top.
“As a team, we feel like we let him down in the OVC,” Moss said. “All our hard work paid off. We just wanted to win the tournament for him.”
After narrowly beating Missouri State on the road, Murray State was able to host and beat Omaha, Towson and Pacific on their way to the championship game against Yale.
Though the final game was their worst offensively, the team managed to pull out a win.
“We had to come through adversity,” junior forward Jonathan Fairell said. “We had to win it through defense. Offensively, our shots weren’t falling.”
Fairell and teammate junior forward Jarvis Williams led the way on defense. Each had five blocks en route to a historic team-high 14 total blocks.
“It was all because of concentration and being locked in and focus coming in at halftime,” Williams said. “We were getting destroyed on the boards, but we made up for it in other areas.”
Any time the Racers started to struggle, freshman guard Cam Payne stepped up to make the big play. Payne’s 24-point performance helped him earn the Most Valuable Player in the tournament.
Still, Payne said being named MVP takes a backseat to winning as a team and accomplishing a season long goal – to send Fields out a champion.
Williams, who was named to the All-Tournament team, agreed with Payne that the team win means more than the individual award. “Winning for Dexter, it’s the greatest feeling in the world,” he said. “Throughout the entire season the main goal was to win a championship and send him out a champion.”
Though they’ll bask in their tournament win for a while, the team is already looking forward to next year.
Williams said the tournament is only the start of more preparation.
“It prepares us with a lot of confidence,” he said. “It’s going to let everybody know Murray State is still a dominant power house team.”
Fairell also thinks next year will prove even better than this year’s final results.
“We take momentum and build on to next year’s team,” he said. “Next year’s going to be very scary.”
Story by Ryan Richardson, Sports Editor
Photos by Fumi Nakamura