The Racers clinched the 2014-15 OVC regular-season championship title Feb. 14 in a 94-92 overtime win over Southeast Missouri State.
Senior guard T.J. Sapp came out a free throw hero as he sunk three free throws to send the game into overtime before making another with 15.9 seconds left in the third period to solidify a win. The Redhawks, who led for the majority of the game, were unable to retaliate as they missed a buzzer-beater.
“I know a lot of people thought we were going to lose that game,” Sapp said. “We kept talking about how much time was on the clock. We knew this game wasn’t over. We knew the type of character we’ve got on this team. We stuck together and we followed through and we came out with a win.”
Racers off the bench added to an overall team effort as starters sophomore point guard Cameron Payne and senior forwards Jarvis Williams and Jonathan Fairell all fouled out and were bench-ridden. Payne fouled out with 2:43 in regulation while Williams and Fairell left the game during overtime.
“That makes it more fun, because everybody played a big, big part,” Head Coach Steve Prohm said. “Everybody had to do something to help us win, and that’s why you’ve always got to be ready. That’s why you’ve got to practice. That’s why we’ve got to coach everybody one through nine the same way – for those moments right there. And that was fun to see.”
Payne, the Racers’ leading scorer, contributed in a different way during the last eight minutes, cheering on his teammates and guiding Sapp as he took over as point guard. Payne transitioned from a leader on the court to a leader on the bench as the Racers took home a conference title.
“I think that just speaks a volume of the character of our guys, and it speaks a volume of the character of Cameron Payne,” Prohm said. “He just wants to win. He just wants the demons out from last year. And that was awesome. That was fun as a coach, to hear him cheer and lead and talk to T.J. That’s what you want.”
Demons from last year were all too present in the team’s mind as they battled in the same venue where they faced a heartbreaking double overtime loss and let the OVC regular-season title slip away.
“You appreciate it more when you let a couple slip out of your fingers,” Prohm said. “I mean it’s an honor to coach here. This program has won a lot. I’m just glad we could put another championship banner up in the arena. Fans were awesome. We had great, great support from them today. And that was the fun part, being able to really enjoy the celebration.”
The Racers on the bench celebrated as junior forwards Tyler Rambo and Wayne Langston came off the bench to help carry the team to the program’s 24th regular-season championship. Rambo made two free throws with 33.8 seconds left in overtime to put the Racers ahead, and Langston made a steal with 19 seconds to gain possession once again. Junior forward and starter Jeffery Moss put up 18 points as well, while sophomore guard Justin Seymour added seven more. According to Sapp, this tough game showcased the strength throughout the roster.
“I know I say this a lot, but we’ve got so many weapons on our team,” Sapp said. “We’ve got guys that are going to come in ready to play.
SEMO’s senior guard Jarekious Bradley racked up 15 points and four rebounds, but senior forward Nino Johnson carried the Redhawks with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Their efforts almost bettered the Racers, but they were still unable to break the second-longest win streak in the nation as the Racers took home their 21st consecutive win.
“The streak’s great,” Prohm said. “Everybody knows about it. It’s no hidden secret. But that was the furthest thing from my mind when the buzzer sounded. It was, ‘Man, we did it.’ These guys did it. These guys overcame so much. To win 21 in a row, that’s remarkable, what those guys have done so far.
The Racers return to their home court at the CFSB Center at 1 p.m. on Feb. 21 as they take on Austin Peay State. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
Story by Mallory Tucker, Sports Editor