In football, Heisman winners almost always have what are known as “Heisman moments,” that one game that reminds you just how great that players is. Although I don’t think the phrase necessarily exists, Isaiah Cannan knows a thing or two about having “All-American moments,” against rivals. Just think of last year’s game in Clarksville against Austin Peay, where Canaan iconic pull-up three was in full effect.
Cannan may have just had another of those moments tonight. After struggling for much of the game, Canaan hit two huge threes sparking a 14-2 Racers run, as Murray State held off a shorthanded Western Kentucky squad 75-70 in Murray.
Western Kentucky was playing without their leading scorer T.J. Price, and saw their second leading Jamal Crook go down with an apparent ankle injury during half. But the Hilltoppers stayed in the game thanks to a career night from Brandon Harris. The JUCO transfer had only score 46 points on the season, but put up a game high 23 points, hitting some Cannan-like bombs in the second half.
Canaan led the way for the Racers with 21 points, with Ed Daniel adding 16, but breaking his double-double streak, finishing with just eight rebounds. Daniel sat for six and a half minutes in the second half after picking up two quick fouls at the start of the half. Dexter Fields added 14 on 5-8 shooting, and Stacy Wilson also finished in double digits with 13 points.
The Racers shot 55% from the floor in the second half, holding WKU to just 43%.
After an early deficit, Murray led for much of the first half, but never had a lead larger than two buckets. Western would force the sixth ties of the half at 27 with 3:27 to play, before the Racers finished the half with a 6-1 advantage, taking a five point lead into the locker room.
Daniel second and third foul happened just six seconds apart, just over a minute into the second half, forcing the Racers big man to sit with the Racers up just four points. The Racers were able to stretch the lead a little in his absence, leading by eight when Western goes on a 14-4 run to take a two point lead with 12:42 remaining. From there, neither team would lead by more than a basket until Cannan’s second three in three possession put the Racers up six.
The lead would grow to ten with 3:34 remaining, before Harris hit back-to-back three’s for the Hilltoppers, bringing Western Kentucky back within four. The Racers, who shot just 12-20 from the free throw line on the night, hit three of four down the stretch, and kept Harris from hitting another big bucket, escaping the five point victory.
Many Western Kentucky fans will point to injuries and say they would have won if Price and Crook weren’t hurt. In fact, Price “could” have played according to coach Harper, and would have if this were a more important game. (His words) We don’t know that, but in March, this will be looked at as a good win by the NCAA selection committee, if the Racers are in that conversation.
Canaan struggled, and after the game pointed to the week long layoff as a possible contributing cause. He still hit big shots when it mattered, and finished with 21 points. Again, Cannan struggled, seriously, missing “bunnies” in his words, and scored a team high 21 points, and the team comes out with a win against an 8-3 WKU squad.
Brandon Garrett continues to play well, finishing with 8 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Zay Henderson…did not. On multiple occasions, he literally got turned around, and had his back to his man, shooting a wide-open layup. Western Kentucky is a bigger team than the Racers are used to playing, and it shows. Take out WKU’s 5-25 shooting behind the arc, and the Hilltoppers shot 24-42 inside the arc, which is 57% shooting. Daniel’s two bad fouls six seconds apart hurt, and as Prohm noted post game, those are fouls Daniel has avoided this year. He needs to continue avoiding them.
When we’ve seen Garrett or Daniel in foul trouble in the past, we’ve seen the Racers go to a four guard lineup. That just wasn’t an option tonight against the larger WKU squad.
Murray State had some issues handling the late-game half-court trap from Western, dribbling the ball twice into the corner, but didn’t turn over the ball there. They did turn it over with two bad passes to well covered players, which had almost nothing to do with the pressure.
The Racers didn’t force three point shots like we’ve seen in the past, and did a much better job getting good looks inside.
All-in-all, for a rivalry game against two good teams, a win is a win.