David Changas is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s OVC battle between Belmont and Murray State in Murray, Kentucky.
It was billed as the game of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference. The league’s perennial power and defending champion taking on the new kid on the block and winner of its first 10 games as a member of the conference. It featured two of the nation’s best guards much of the country has never heard of. While it appeared that Thursday’s matchup between OVC West Division leader Murray State and East Division Leader Belmont would not live up to the hype, a late charge by the Bruins to overcome a 14-point deficit with under 5 minutes to play to tie the game with under a minute remaining allowed it to do just that. Ian Clark, the Bruins’ three-point sharpshooter who came into Thursday’s game making an absurd 51.4% of his three-point attempts, despite attempting nearly 6.5 per game, made three in the final 2:30 to bring the Bruins all the way back from a deficit that grew to 15 points in the second half. But it was Murray State preseason All-American guard Isaiah Canaan who had the final say, as he broke the 74-all tie with a deep three with 35 seconds remaining to put the Racers back on top to stay on their way to a 79-74 victory.
“[Clark] stepped up for his team and I knew we needed it and I stepped up for ours,” Canaan said.
While Thursday’s game may have no impact on which team makes the NCAA Tournament – Belmont may be able to make a case for an at-large bid, while Murray State’s resume is not impressive enough to merit such consideration – the game clearly meant a lot to both teams. Before a charged up, partisan CFSB Center crowd of 7,141, the Racers were effective until the final minutes in controlling Clark and his backcourt mate, Kerron Johnson, who sat for the final few minutes because of his ineffectiveness, and exploiting their athletic advantage in the front court on the way to the victory. The Racers have not been nearly as dominant this season as they were last year on their way to a 5-seed in the Big Dance, but they have positioned themselves to make a run in the OVC Tournament championship and their third NCAA Tournament bid in the past four seasons with Thursday’s victory. The game clearly meant a lot to Murray State coach Steve Prohm, who expressed relief and satisfaction with his team’s effort after the game. “We needed this game,” Prohm said. “We needed it to test us and see where we are as a team. There was a different vibe out there tonight, with the crowd, the energy, the emotion, and the big plays.”