OVC Championship results in Racer heartbreak

Fumi Nakamura/The News Senior guard T.J. Sapp lays a bucket in Saturday night at Municipal Auditorium during the OVC Championship game against Belmont.

Fumi Nakamura/The News
Senior guard T.J. Sapp lays a bucket in Saturday night at Municipal Auditorium during the OVC Championship game against Belmont.

Municipal Auditorium was once again covered in blue and gold as the Racers prepared to take on No. 3 seed Belmont Saturday night in Nashville, Tenn. Any noise coming from a small section of red behind the Belmont bench was drowned out by chants of “let’s go Racers.” The Bruins won the tip and senior guard Reece Chamberlain was quick to put up a 3-pointer on their first possession. Senior forward Jarvis Williams returned by driving two points in for the Racers on the next play.

Belmont maintained their early lead for the majority of the first half. Named to the All-OVC First Team this week, junior Belmont guard Craig Bradshaw was a dominant force from outside shooting 50 percent in the first half. Senior guard T.J. Sapp was the dominant presence on the court for the Racers, putting up 19 points and 3 rebounds before he entered the locker room.

Down by 10 with 10 minutes left to play in the first half, the Racers were in familiar territory – a situation they had overcome just last night. Sapp continued to shine for the Racers as he cut the Bruins’ lead to just one with two consecutive 3-pointers. Junior guard Justin Seymour tied the game at 33 with under seven minutes to play before Williams came down with a huge block downcourt on defense.

A go-ahead 3-pointer attempt by sophomore point guard Cameron Payne bounced around the rim before falling out to be rebounded by Belmont. On the Racers’ next possession, Fairell amplified the crowd’s cheers with a one-handed slam and the Racers took the lead for the first time of the game with 4:47 to play in the half. Payne made his first 3-pointer of the game shortly after, increasing their lead to four.

The Racers found their groove with a few minutes left in the first half as the Bruins spent over three minutes without adding to their score. They ended their drought shortly after, but the Racers steadily increased the gap. Sapp continued to dominate as he made a layup just a second before the buzzer and ended the first half with a 49-41 lead.

Murray State danced onto the court as they prepared for the start of the second half. Fairell kicked it off with a missed layup and Belmont scored on their next two positions, cutting the lead to four. Sophomore forward Bruin Evan Bradds cut the lead to two before Williams put up the Racers’ first two points of the half and made it a two-possession game once again. The teams went back and forth with scoring before Fairell made two consecutive  layups to make it a six-point game with just under 16 minutes to play.

Bradshaw took the lead for the Bruins 56-55 with 14 minutes to play. Williams stole it back for the Racers with a layup and the and-one. Belmont tied the game at 58 with two free throws before Sapp laid one in which was quickly returned by Bradshaw. It was a battle between the two guards as Sapp and Bradshaw stole the show.

A steal by Payne and a series of passes from Payne to Sapp and from Sapp to Moss resulted in a layup that put the Racers ahead again. Payne solidified the lead shortly after with a 3-pointer. The game stayed neck and neck as both teams took the lead multiple times just for the other to tie it up. Sapp calmed the court with a 3-pointer before Belmont took it downcourt to be called for a travel.

Tied at 70 with 7:57 to play, Sapp couldn’t be stopped. He missed a 3-pointer only for Williams to pull it down and get it back to him to put two in. With nine lead changes and eight times tied with four and a half minutes to play, the crowd was electric and the court was bursting with energy from both sides. The arena erupted with cheers as Payne sunk a three and Williams slammed one in shortly after.

Williams entered foul trouble as he was called for his third, but Bradds missed the free throw and the Racers maintained the lead. A leaping steal by Sapp forced the Bruins to foul. Junior forward Jeffery Moss inbounded to Payne who missed a floater. Chamberlain put two in downcourt before Moss drew a foul and went one-for-two at the line to tie the game at 80 with under three minutes to play.

Belmont went ahead with a 3-pointer before Sapp drew a foul and made both shots from the line. Payne worked his magic in Municipal once again as he tied the game with a long 3-pointer. Moss pulled down a defensive rebound and Payne killed the clock downcourt before drawing a foul with just 20.7 seconds on the clock. Payne made both free throws and Belmont quickly took it downcourt to miss a 3-point attempt. The Racers pulled down the rebound but the ball wobbled out of bounds.

It came down to the wire for the second time in two days in Municipal Auditorium as the Racers searched for OVC Title redemption and the Bruins searched for the upset. Down two points, Belmont called a timeout with 9.1 seconds on the clock. Sophomore guard Taylor Barnette made the shot of a lifetime with 3.2 seconds on the clock as he sunk a 3-pointer and claimed the lead for the Bruins.

The Racers called a timeout and Sapp took the final shot attempt. It bounced off the backboard and his superstar game was eclipsed by the bitter 88-87 loss that ended the Racers’ 25-game win streak.

Story by Mallory Tucker, Sports Editor