Eastern put the first points of the game on the board with a 3-pointer, returned shortly by William’s first sunk free-throw of the game. Eastern was on a roll as they added their second three to the score less than two minutes into the game.
Sophomore point guard Cameron Payne settled the fans’ nerves by laying a short lob into the basket, cutting the Colonels’ lead to just three points before a media timeout stopped the game.
The pace didn’t slow as both teams struggled to swoosh buckets. Shot after shot bounced off the rim as the Racers and Colonels battled. What the Racers lacked in points, they made up for in rebounds as they exceeded Eastern’s statistics on both offense and defense.
The Racers took their first lead of the game with just under 11 minutes in the first half from a layup by Fairell. Senior guard T.J. Sapp and freshman guard Kedrick Flomo sunk back to back 3-pointers to increase the Racers’ lead to 19-11.
The Colonels tied the game at 22-22 with a 3-pointer before senior forward Eric Stutz sunk yet another, taking Eastern up 25-22. Redshirt sophomore Justin Seymour put a 3-pointer of his own on the board tying the game at 25 with less than four minutes in the first half.
The fans were loud and rowdy as halftime approached, shouting “walk” as the Colonels evaded questionable calls. Colonel standout Stutz limped to the bench at the under-four minute media timeout, injured both physically and by the jeers of Murray State fans. Eastern returned to the court with a renewed sense of urgency and began to pull away as they did early in the game. With under two minutes left in the first half, the Colonels led 32-25.
Williams put on a strong front for the Racers with his second dunk of the game, cutting the score to 33-27. Moss laid up another basket as the fans stood to encourage the Racers in their final seconds of the first half.
Eastern’s senior guard Corey Walden went one for two on free throws before Moss gathered a layup and one. Walden hit a 3-pointer before entering the locker room with an Eastern lead 38-32.
The Colonels didn’t let up as the second half began, maintaining a two-possession lead for six minutes before a diving steal by Fairell and a dunk by Sapp cut the score to just one point, 44-43.
“I said ‘play of the game, automatically’,” Sapp said. “It goes to Fairell getting on that ground. That was actually when we got our spark going, too. We started getting some stops, some runs. He played tremendous defense on the switch.”
The fans were rowdy and the lower bowl was covered in gold as long balloons waved with excitement in the student section.
Confusion got the best of players, fans and referees as Payne was called for his fourth foul with over 12 minutes to play. Fans cheered and jeered as the officials watched the play on screen multiple times before retracting their call. Payne remained benched until after the 12 minute media timeout as the Racers trailed 50-45.
A few sloppy plays and rushed game action put the Racers down 55-47.
None of their baskets seemed to hit home as both teams scrambled, turnovers and steals occurring more frequently than baskets. Neither shot selection nor disputed officiating were advantageous as the Racers fell out of their element on their home court. With eight minutes left to play, Payne drew a foul and the game slowed as the Racers found their offense once again. Fairell ended a dry spell with a layup before Payne grabbed a steal, laying the ball up and adding a free-throw to it, making the score 55-52.
Payne then took control of the game, slowing the pace before tying it at 62-62. The Colonels returned with another 3-pointer and Seymour rallied, keeping it 65-65 with under four minutes to play.
Seymour rallied for the Racers once again, hitting a 3-pointer with less than 30 seconds to play and tying the score at 70.
With 18.5 seconds left, Eastern called a timeout. Fans and players alike were electrified as they worked toward the final outcome. Eastern searched for the easy layup that Murray State wouldn’t allow as the clock timed out and teams and fans prepared for free basketball.
Williams won the tip over Stutz as the teams headed into overtime. Moss put the first score of the third period on the board as he sunk two free throws. Payne went one for two on free throws, putting Murray State up 73-70 a minute into extra time. Big men Stutz and Williams battled under the basket for rebounds.
Payne lobbed a signature shot into the basket, increasing the gap to 75-70 as the Colonels struggled to make a shot.
A layup by Williams bounced out before Moss was able to get the rebound and hook it in the hoop. Eastern put their first points of overtime on the board with a layup before losing the ball on a sloppy play. Eastern’s junior guard Ja’Mill Powell made a free throw with a minute and a half to play, making the score 79-74.
Williams took his fourth foul of the game attempting to pull down an offensive rebound.
Fans cheered their disapproval in light of what many believed to be a jump ball. Sapp put two on the board for the Racers and Murray State led 81-76 with 48 seconds left.
The Racers focused on passing as the Colonels’ senior guard Timmy Knipp fouled out in hopes of a turnover.
Eastern’s Walden sunk two free throws after Williams fouled out, before fouling out himself on the next play.
Sapp went one for two on free throws with less than a second left in the game.
The Colonels were unable to close the gap as the Racers extended their win streak to 16 with a final score of 85-78 in overtime at the.
“We need games like this,” Sapp said. “We need games where we have to battle and show our character and show that this team has got a little grit to us. We can play those games where everything is going well for us, or we also can play those games where we’re going to go down. But we’ve got enough toughness and enough type of players and talent and character on this team to be able to fight back and make it a game. I just think it’s us growing up.”
Story by Mallory Tucker, Sports Editor