When you’re looking for a great rivalry, you’re looking for a few things. Fan bases that don’t really like one another. Teams that play year after year. And when they meet, you want the game to seemingly always go to the buzzer.
Tonight was another amazing chapter in one of the OVC’s greatest rivalries.
After 13 lead changes, and nine ties, Murray State survives three Travis Betran threes in the final minute, escaping Clarksville with a 71-68 win.
Austin Peay led by four with 3:33 remaining in the first half, before Murray State closed on an 8-2 run, taking a two point lead into the break. Murray State could only get the lead to five before Austin Peay would come back and tie the game with 5:28 remaining. The Racers would go on a mini 6-0 run, with all six points coming from Racers big man Ed Daniel. Murray State would keep the lead at two scores, extending it to seven with 1:23 to go.
And that’s when Betran took over. His first three came with :52 seconds to go, bringing the Govs back within four. On the ensuing inbounds, the Govs would get a steal, get it back to Betran, who missed a quick open three. After Racers guard Isaiah Canaan made one of two free throws, Austin Peay got the ball back to Betran, who hit his second three, with :36 still on the clock. A quick foul put Canaan back on the line. This time, the preseason All-American made both to extend Murray State’s lead back to four.
Next Austin Peay possession, Betran double-clutches on a three, missing everything. Daniel pulls down the rebound and is instantly fouled, making both at the line. On the other end of the court, Betran got the ball for the fifth straight possession, and banks in an off-balance three. To make things worse, Stacy Wilson fouls Betran on the shot, his fifth and final personal foul. Betran would complete the four point play at the line, and the Govs were back within two with :11 still on the clock.
On the inbounds, the Govs double teamed Canaan, but as a result the Racers get the ball in, and are able to avoid the foul for seven seconds. Jeffrey Moss eventually gets fouled, and goes to the line with four seconds remaining, and a chance to seal the game. Moss makes the first, but the second goes off the right side of the rim. Jeremy Purvis pulls down the rebound for Austin Peay, but a quick trap causes him to throw a bad pass up court, which goes out of bounds as the clock expired. A wild finish to a great game.
Canaan led the Racers with 26 points, opening the game with back-to-back three’s, reminiscent of his last trip to Clarksville. Tonight, he would finish just 4-9 from three-point range. Ed Daniel sat out much of the first half after picking up back-to-back fouls with 10 seconds of each other, but still managed 21 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. The Racers got 12 points off the bench, which while that may not sound like a lot, it’s a number more often than not in low single digits for Murray State this season. Turnovers, which have been problematic for the Racers continued to be so tonight, as the Racers coughed up the ball 17 times.
Betran finishes with one point ahead of Canaan on the night, scoring 27 points and adding five assists. Will Triggs adds 12 points on 6-11 shooting, but pulls just two rebounds. The Governors would lose the battle on the boards 40-31, and have been outrebounded in every conference game this season. Anthony Campbell was also in double figures with 11 points.
It’s a good win on the road against a rival for a Murray State team that simply didn’t look good in their loss Wednesday night to Eastern Kentucky. They battled well, and seemed able to hit big buckets every time Austin Peay gained a little momentum. It’s hard to judge what this means long term, but with Southeast Missouri losing again tonight, it’s gives the Racers a very healthy pad atop the West Division.
Another loss is hard to swallow for Austin Peay fans, I’m sure. But this team looked like a team that compete with Murray, and with the rest of the OVC. If the Governors put forth this type of effort night out of night, the Governors should easily make the OVC tournament, and could be a factor.
Murray State hosts Eastern Illinois (3-15, 0-5) and SIU Edwardsville (5-9, 1-3) next week. Austin Peay gets the same two teams in reverse order.