With :30.4 seconds left, in a tie ball game, everybody that had watched Murray State this season knew that Isaiah Canaan, the Player of the Year in the OVC would take the final shot.
Except he didn’t.
So it had to be Donte Poole, the OVC Tournament’s Most Valuable Player, then.
With about 7 seconds left, it was the OVC Defensive player of the year, Jewuan Long, who drove the baseline, and hit what would be the championship winning shot.
Who passed Long the ball? None other than Canaan himself, who fans had seen take so many tough shots in the final moments of a shot clock, or half so many times before, and almost everyone expected to take it again.
Tennessee State would get a good look from Robert Covington as time expired, which would fall harmlessly to the ground. The Racers had won the OVC Title 54-52.
A special season for fans, players, and coaches just got a whole lot more special.
The Racers hardly played their best basketball. In fact, it was their second worse shooting performance of the season, hitting just 38% from the field. The usually automatic Canaan did finish with 14 points, but needed 13 shots from the field to do so. Even Poole struggled behind the arc, hitting just 2-6 from deep. But the Racers defense, what head coach Steve Prohm wants to be the team’s calling card, was fantastic down the stretch, and solid all game long, forcing 18 Tennessee State turnovers.
For Tennessee State, it was a crushing blow for a team that thought this might be their year. First 20-win season since 1978, and the only team all season long to knock off the Racers. And twice in the second half, they held a 7-point lead over the Racers, larger than any lead Murray State held over them the entire game. Covington sat for a significant portion of the second half after picking up 4 fouls, and finished with just 14 points. Patrick Miller earned a all-tourney nod, with 9 points and 7 assists. In fact, all 5 of TSU’s first 5 buckets were off a Miller assist.
Now the waiting begins: It’s over a week until the picks and seeds are revealed, which, as always, will be excruciating. We can (and next week, will) talk seeds possibilities on end, but whether you think Murray should be a top-4, a top-8, or neither, it’s going to be awhile before we find out where they seeded, likely the highest in their and the OVC’s history (which Murray State currently holds as a 9-seed) and who they face.
And I bet every sports website will hold wildly different theories as to where the Racers should, and will be ranked, which every Murray fan will parse over and dissect at it fullest, and I’m sure coach Prohm himself will admit after the week is over he read much of it as well. For fans, (and likely coaches and players) it’s going to feel like one of the longest waits ever between conference tourney and the NCAA’s.
If you need to fill the time, I suggest finding a new TV show to watch, one that’s not on ESPN. “The Big Bang Theory” would be my pick, if you’re not already watching that. And if you are, watch it again?
Will Tennessee State get a postseason bid: Yes. No doubt in my mind. NIT is probably out of reach, (RPI is just too high) but they will get a CBI/CIT bid. No matter who they face, they’ll be a tough out. They proved that tonight, and have since January. The biggest thing for this team isn’t what happens the rest of this season, but the next. They lose Wil Peters and Kenny Moore, but the rest of this team, including Covington should return. This team will likely be just as hard to beat, if not more so, next season.
What do the Racers do for the next 10 days?: I asked coach Prohm this during the press conference, and his answer was that he didn’t wholly know, and said he would call some other coaches for guidance, and then laid out a tentative groundwork. They’ll take some well earned time off, hit the weight room, work through some light practices, and then hold a selection party next Sunday in Lovett Auditorium. Really, Lovett? You might have to move that thing to the CFSB Center, because I’m betting there’s a few thousand that might want to join you for that.
“It’s not the end of the world.”: I haven’t gotten to be in too many post-game news conferences with Tennessee State coach John Cooper, but the few times I’ve heard the man talk, I’m always amazed at his demeanor. On the court, he’s one of the more emotional coaches in the league. Off the court, he’s cracking jokes at players, banging his head on the microphone when a player mentions a bad play. And that’s even when they lose, as I saw tonight. Cooper said that after the buzzer, he actually smiled, even though his team had just lost a heartbreaker. In the locker room he told his team “it’s not the end of the world.” and later tried to poke fun somewhat at Robert Covington, and then remarked, “he’s just a little down right now.” A lot of times, these character moments don’t make headlines because they don’t have that shock factor of Pat Knight going off on his seniors. But they really should, because from what I’ve seen, at least in the OVC, there are more character guys like Cooper running teams than not.
All Tournament team:
Isaiah Canaan (Murray State)
Robert Covington (Tennessee State)
Patrick Miller (Tennessee State)
Kevin Murphy (Tennessee Tech)
Donte Poole (Murray State)
MVP: Donte Poole
The final all-tournament team mirrored my ballot. (Yes, they actually gave me a vote. No, I’m not sure why either.) A strong 6th would have been Tyler Stone of SEMO, who had two great games in the first two rounds before SEMO was bounced by Tennessee Tech.
But I absolutely love Poole earning MVP, and I mean it when I said earn it. Because he plays on the same team as Canaan, I think his contributions have often gone overlooked. It’s great for the senior, and I’m glad he could end his final OVC tournament like this.
Quote of the Night (so far): “We played one possession of zone defense this whole season, and gave up a 3 in Alaska, I think San Francisco. And then we haven’t played zone since. I think Jewuan messed the play up. But he made up for it tonight. I’m just kidding…but I think he really did, he was the one.”
-Steve Prohm, when asked about the teams defense the last 5 minutes of the game
Ending on Good Notes:
- Ed Daniel hit 2 major free throws for the Racers down the stretch, to tie the ball game at 52 with 1:01. Daniel was just 60% from the field on the season, and 3-9 the night before against Tennessee Tech. Huge, clutch shots from the Racers big man.
- Tennessee State players were clearly hurt by tonight’s loss, but as Cooper mentioned during the press conference, this has been a season of “firsts” for the program. First 20-win season in over 30 years. First time beating a top-10 team in the school’s history. I think they’re well on their way to “bringing back the old TSU.”
- The attendance tonight, 6,454, the largest the OVC has ever brought to the Municipal Auditorium for the tournament, and the 2nd largest crowd for a neutral site OVC tournament game. Many of the sportswriters that made their way to Nashville raved about the atmosphere tonight, and I will join them in that sentiment. I’ve gotten to witness great atmospheres many times this year, but watching fans of both teams standing for most, if not all, of the game’s final 8 minutes, and hearing the roar of Murray fans when Long hit that final shot was absolutely amazing. TSU didn’t have the number of fans the Racers did, but the fans that came out were loud, and into the game from tip to buzzer.