Basketball games are called strong words like “battles,” and “fight” quite often.
I’m not sure either of those words, or any words really, are really strong enough to describe what transpired tonight.
It was simply one of the best basketball games I’ve ever witnessed in person. There were runs, big shots, and athletic plays all around the court. And it was won on a fantastic final shot in the closing seconds, by a senior sporting a bandage on his chin, and soon after a big grin on his face.
For all the rightfully deserved focus that teammate Ian Clark has earned this season, it was Belmont’s Kerron Johnson that would come through in not one, but two times of need.
It started in regulation. After Ed Daniel misses two crucial free throws in the final 20 seconds to keep the Bruins behind two, Johnson hit a fade-away jumper over Daniel from 12-feet with nine seconds to go, a shot that would ultimately force overtime.
Five minutes later, he would hit the same shot again. Only this time, it was with :01.2 seconds on the clock. And it didn’t tie the game.
It won it.
“You always talk about when you’re shooting, having that spot on the floor where you’re most comfortable,” Johnson said. “Those two shots were right in that same area and I’m really comfortable from that area and that range, whether it be a floater or pullup. I knew if I could get to that range I was pretty confident it was going down.”
“All you have to do is raise up and knock it down,” he added.
Johnson’s words came in his own private press conference. Head coach Rick Byrd and the rest of the seniors sat down in front of the media without the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament MVP. Why? He was busy getting four stitches in his chin.
Just don’t expect Johnson to keep the bandage, like a certain bloody sock that will live in baseball infamy.
“I was eyes closed. They wanted to take pictures, I didn’t even want to see it,” Johnson said about getting his stitches. “I’m queasy when it comes to that.”
A terrible end(?) to a terrific collegiate career
Trying to describe what Murray State point guard Isaiah Canaan has meant to his team not only this year, but his entire career is as challenging an endeavor as describing tonight’s game.
Tonight, the future NBAer was one rebound away from a triple-double. But with 25 seconds to go in a tie game in overtime, the All-American guard made a gut-wrenching mistake. He dribbled the ball off his leg, and watched helplessly as it went into the back court, for the Racers 26th turnovers of the night.
“It was a mistake on my part.” Cannan said afterwords. “I was dribbling it like regular, but I guess my foot was in the way and it rolled off my foot.”
Long delay mars end of regulation
The OVC has provided an explanation of exactly what caused the lengthy delay, but it’s far from easing the minds of many Racers fans. After Johnson hit the fadeaway to tie the game at the end of regulation, a lengthy officials timeout ensued, correcting a timing error and giving the Racers the ball in front of Belmont’s bench. But that’s not where Murray State head coach Steve Prohm thought his team was getting the ball.
“Let’s just move on from that play. I didn’t listen correctly,” Prohm said, clearly struggling to find the right words to say. “I’ll just take the blame on that. I didn’t listen correctly and looking back I should have just gotten the ball across half court and called a timeout and run one of our last second plays. ”
What was run was far from what was intended. The Racers could never get the ball into the hands of their co-OVC player of the year, or even senior guard Stacy Wilson, who had bailed the Racers out with a huge three as the shot clock was expiring minutes before. Instead, forward Latreze Mushatt took a rare three that fell short as the buzzer sounded.
“We didn’t want [Cannan] to touch the ball,” Byrd said of his team’s defense on the final possession. “That guy can get his own shot better than anybody, one of the best in the country at really getting his own shot.”
The OVC will be a one-bid conference once again into the NCAA Tournament, but for the second straight year they’re sending a team that’s going to be a relatively high seed.
“I think, first of all, we don’t know what’s going to go on from now until Selection Sunday and that will impact our seed without a question,” Byrd said after the win. “But I think the best thing is to trust those guys to get in there and do the best they can. It wouldn’t matter if you had the 12 Apostles in there doing it, somebody would be really upset about the outcome.”
“I don’t know but I suspect we’ve got a fighting chance at an 11 or 12,” he added.
Honestly, I think the Bruins have a solid chance at an even better seed. Sure, bracketologists aren’t high on the Bruins, but many weren’t high on the Racers last year either.
During the NCAA’s mock selection for media, Belmont was placed as an 8-seed. While that may be on the high end, is a 9 or 10 really out of the question?