This morning, I hoped for a game as good the first matchup in Clarksville.
I didn’t get it. I got an even better game.
Murray State overcomes a five-point deficit in the final 1:55 of regulation to force OT, and go perfect from the line in the extra period as the Racers escape an Austin Peay upset bid 75-68. Latreze Mushatt comes up big off the bench to give the Racers their fifth straight win over the rival Governors.
As has become the trend, Murray State doesn’t get off to a quick start, falling behind by 10 in the first six minutes of the game. Murray State would respond with an 13-2 run to take back the lead. From there, neither team would lead by more than a basket the rest of the half, with the Racers taking a one-point lead into halftime after Ed Daniel misses a wide open dunk at the buzzer.
The teams would exchange 8-0 runs to start the second half, but Murray would pull back ahead, leading by as much as 8 with 11:33 to go. But as was the story of the second half, Austin Peay would go on a 13-2 run over the next four minutes, taking back the lead on a Travis Betran three with 7:34 left.
Back and forth scoring would have the teams tied with 3:28 to go, but Jerome Clyburn would score 5 unanswered in his return to the Governors lineup to put Peay back ahead by five. Out of a timeout, Stacy Wilson would hit a big jumper, cutting the lead to three. On Austin Peay’s next possession, the Governors would turn it back over to the Racers. A foul would send Mushatt to the line on the next possession, with the senior knocking down two free throws, making it a one-point game with 58 seconds remaining.
After a missed three from Clyburn, Will Triggs would pull down an offensive rebound, and be fouled by Daniel on a putback attempt. Triggs, a 61% free throw shooter, missed both giving the Racers possession with 30 seconds left on the clock. Canaan would be fouled by Chris Horton, and sent to the line with a chance to give Murray State the lead. The senior missed the first, but drained the second, tying the game with 14 seconds on the clock. After an Austin Peay timeout, Betran would miss a contested three, sending the game to overtime.
Murray State never trailed in OT. A Betran jumper with 39 seconds in the extra period put the Governors within three, but Austin Peay fouls on the inbounds attempt. Free throws in the final minute from Wilson and Daniel would seal the win for the Racers.
Aye yie yie. Again? The Governors save one of their best games of the season for the Racers, and come up short yet again. I said this after Murray State played in Clarksville, if this Austin Peay team showed up every night, they’re not 1-8 in the conference.
Of course, if they made shoot better than 7-14 from the free throw line tonight, they’re also probably not 1-8.
Clyburn plays just 18 minutes in his return, but pulls down seven points and four rebounds. Not bad for his first game back from a broken finger. Anthony Campbell led the Governors with 16 points, as Betran added 15. Neither shot all that well from the floor.
The defense was better than we’ve seen from the Governors in the past, but I’ll stop short of calling it “good.” The Governors struggled to pressure the Racers ballhandlers, forcing just six Murray State turnovers; only two came in the second half and OT. Murray State had quite a few opportunities with the backdoor in the first half, and at the end of regulation, couldn’t contain the Racers without fouling.
Encouraging? Sure. Something to build on? Possibly. But with the clock ticking on the season, Austin Peay really needs more than moral victories. They need real ones, ones that show up in the standings.
Without an upset in the coming week, it’s a distinct possibility the Governors are all but eliminated from the OVC Tournament. The Governors host Tennessee State Thursday, and Belmont on Saturday.
The Racers just can’t make things easy on themselves, can they. A double-digit first half deficit, falling behind again late, missing a crucial FT that could have ended the game in regulation. As head coach Steve Prohm said in his press conference, it makes a good game for TV.
If you ignore they fact the Racers struggled to beat a 5-win team, (which you should) there were quite a few very encouraging signs for Murray State moving forward. Mushatt was terrific, easily outplaying starter Brandon Garrett. Mushatt may not be 100% back, but he’s close, and he adds much needed depth to the Racers roster.
Murray State also got quality minutes out of a pair of freshman, C.J. Ford and Jeffrey Moss. Ford’s minutes are especially helpful, adding a second ball handler to take some pressure off of Canaan, and freeing the All-American up to get some rhythm shots. Canaan is struggling with his shot as of late, but if they keep getting him good looks I can’t imagine the struggles last for long.
Ford played 15 minutes without a single turnover, as the Racers just committed six on the night. You’ll take that number forever and always.
It might not show in the final score, but it’s clear the Racers are improving. Enough to topple Belmont on Thursday? That’s left to be seen.
Murray State faces Tennessee State next Saturday.