Story by Kelsey Randolph, Sports Editor
NASHVILLE – For the first time since the OVC split into divisions in 2011, the Racers missed out on a conference tournament bye but cruised to the second round with a 78-62 win over Eastern Illinois on Wednesday.
The Racers (17-13) will play the No. 3 seed, Morehead State (18-11) at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Ranked No. 6 and looking to play four games in four days, the Racers (17-13) shot a season-best 61.2 percent from the floor in the first-round game against the seventh-seeded Panthers.
In their 53rd appearance in the OVC Tournament and their 99th game against the Panthers, the Racers bounced back from their Feb. 25 loss to Eastern Illinois. Head Coach Matt McMahon said the team wasn’t dwelling on that game but wanted to approach the first round of the tournament as a clean slate. He said the goal was to play harder and with more focus, urgency and energy.
“I just knew tonight we had to come out and play with our backs against the wall because this is it,” said junior guard Bryce Jones. “Every game like this is our last, because it really is. And I know with my back against the wall I can give everything I got on the floor and that’s what happened tonight.”
Leading the Racers was senior forward Wayne Langston with 22 points and Jones with 8 rebounds and 9 assists.
Up at halftime 45-29, the Racers were shooting 62 percent from the floor and managed 16 points off turnovers.
But with less than 10 minutes left in the game, junior guard Gee McGhee had scored no points, had no assists and had pulled down one rebound. He had, however, racked up four personal fouls. Langston, a usual suspect for foul trouble, ended the game with only three fouls.
With six minutes left in the game, the Panthers’ junior guard Demetrius McReynolds and freshman forward Patrick Muldoon scored a combined five points, giving the team the momentum. Seconds later, the Racers’ Jones and junior guard Justin Seymour answered with five points of their own.
“I thought it was good patience, good ball movement and very unselfish play,” McMahon said. The Panthers’ McReynolds led with 14 points, senior guard and forward Trae Anderson with 6 rebounds and sophomore guard Cornell Johnston with three assists.
The last time the Racers were ranked as a No. 6 seed was in 1987. The last time they were ranked lower than a sixth seed was in 1976. McMahon and the team now face a Morehead State squad that is ranked fourth in the country in offensive rebounding and 15th in the country in forcing turnovers. The Racers beat the Eagles 62-57 in Murray on Jan. 2 in their only meeting this season.
“It’s been two months since we played them,” McMahon said. “I know Morehead State is a very physical and aggressive team and they’ve had an incredible year. They are playing as well as anyone in the league.”
Story by Mark McFarland, Assistant Sports Editor
NASHVILLE – The No. 8 Murray State Racers shocked the No. 1 UT Martin Skyhawks 78-76 in the first round of the OVC Tournament Wednesday afternoon, making history as the first No. 8 team to beat a No. 1 seed. It is the first time since the 2012-13 season the Racers have made the tournament and the first time since the 2011-12 season they have gotten past the first round.
Looking ahead, the Racers will play 12 p.m. Friday in the semifinals against the winner of Eastern Kentucky and Austin Peay State at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.
Eastern Kentucky beat the Racers in the 2012-13 OVC Tournament while the Racers defeated Austin Peay in the 2011-12 OVC Tournament. Murray State lost by 12 points in the only meeting against Eastern Kentucky this season and lost both games against Austin Peay.
The Skyhawks beat the Racers twice this season by a combined score of 162-111, and 70-49 last Saturday at the CFSB Center.
The Racers started the game with an 11-2 run in the first quarter and battled on from there. The Skyhawks did not let the Racers out of sight as they continued to go back and forth the whole game. Skyhawks Head Coach Kevin McMillan said the Racers should not have been a No. 8 seed because of the way they charged the court.
“Going into the final week there were nine teams that could have finished anywhere from five to nine,” McMillan said. “That’s not an eight seed. An eight seed can’t compete with the fours and the fives in the league – that’s not an eight seed.”
Senior forward Haley Howard led the Skyhawks with 17 points, seven points and three assists. Behind her was freshman guard Emanye Robertson with 14 points while shooting 7-11 from the floor. The teams second leading scorer junior guard Jessy ward was held to shooting 1-6 from the floor and scored three points during the game.
On the final possession of the game the Skyhawks’ Robertson had a clear path to the basket to tie the game with an easy layup. Instead, she passed it out to senior guard Katie Schubert for a contested three for the win but came up short. McMillan said thought the decision may have been the wrong one, it is a decision even he probably would have made.
“I have no problems with a ball in the air to win a game from Katie Schubert to win any game,” McMillian said.
Sophomore guard Ke’Shunan James was held by UT Martin to zero points Saturday night, but came out to get 20 points and 13 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the year in Wednesday’s game. Her rebounds tie her career high. McMillan said James came out and played with a changed mindset, and that was the difference in the games.
“I think struggled is an understatement,” James said when asked about her performance Saturday. “The whole time I was just thinking if I’m not doing it from the offensive side, I have to do it on the defensive side.”
Senior forward Jashae Lee was right behind James with 14 points in 30 minutes played. Sophomore guard Jasmine Borders finished with 13 points, four rebounds and two steals. She also shot 4-9 from the floor despite shooting 1-6 from behind the arc.
Racers Head Coach Rob Cross said he was happy with the way freshman guard Abria Gulledge showed up because she played a huge part in the win Wednesday. As Gulledge was able to come out and score 14 points along with 5-15 shooting from the floor.
“Earlier in the game she was struggling to make shots on the perimeter, so what did she do?” Cross said. “She didn’t hang her head and pout about it – she attacked the basket.”