NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The 25th-ranked Murray State Racers have had some great finishes this season to keep the nation’s second-longest winning streak alive.
They topped themselves Friday night.
Cameron Payne hit a 3-pointer with 54 seconds left and Murray State beat Morehead State 80-77 in a wild Ohio Valley Conference tournament semifinal in which the Racers both blew an 11-point lead and rallied from the same amount with an amazing finish.
”I’m sorry I keep saying it’s a blessing,” Payne said. ”I’m too happy. I didn’t really know what to say because I’m still in shock we ended up pulling this game out.”
The Racers (27-4) won their 25th straight only after giving up a 43-32 halftime lead. They trailed 71-60 with 6:31 left before Jarvis Williams sparked a 20-6 run to the finish.
Murray State hit eight of its final nine shots with Payne finally giving them their first lead since midway through the half with his 3.
”It took miraculous shots, not just open shots,” Morehead State coach Sean Woods said. ”Two, three miraculous 3s to bring them back. What else can you say? … That’s what it took for them to win. I took my hat off to them.”
Payne finished with 25 points and Williams had 23 and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Racers. T.J. Sapp added 17 points, and Jeffery Moss, 10.
Murray State went a perfect 16-0 through the conference for the first time in the program’s history. The Racers’ 24th straight win in the regular season finale Feb. 28 helped them move into the Top 25 on Monday.
The Racers now will play Belmont on Saturday night, looking for their 15th tournament title and an NCAA Tournament berth.
”I’m really, really proud of the resolve,” Murray State coach Steve Prohm said. ”We wouldn’t win this game in November for a lot of reasons, but it’s March. These guys have grown, and they’ve really sold out and bought into one another. Hopefully, we can finish this out tomorrow.”
Morehead State (17-17) was playing its third game in as many days. The Eagles missed six of their final seven shots, including a 3-pointer off the left rim just before the buzzer by Chad Donley.
Karam Mashour led Morehead State with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Kareem Storey added 20. Angelo Warner had 13.
Morehead State came in having won a season-high five straight. The Eagles chipped away at the lead after halftime and used an 11-0 run keyed by three straight 3-pointers with Mashour hitting the first two. Marcus Fuggins dunked to put Morehead State up 71-60.
Then the Eagles went cold, and the Racers started hitting shots. After a Williams’ dunk, Payne got going and scored eight in the rally. Williams added two more dunks, bringing the Racers’ faithful to their feet with each one. Sapp added two free throws for the final margin.
Morehead State: The Eagles now have lost five straight against Top 25 teams with their last win against a ranked team in 2011 when they knocked off No. 14 Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. … They came into the semifinal having scored an average 82.8 points per game in their five-game streak.
Murray State: This was the Racers’ fourth win in the streak by three or fewer points, one in overtime. … For all the Racers’ success and history, this was just the first time in their program history they went undefeated in league play and the first in the Ohio Valley since Austin Peay in 2003-04. … The Racers lost to Eastern Kentucky in last year’s semifinal.
PREDICTING PAYNE’S FUTURE
”We’re going to be seeing him on TNT and things like that,” Woods said of Payne. ”And guess what? When Morehead State had a pro (Denver’s Kenneth Faried), they were the best. Murray State has a pro now, so they’re the best team. Guess what? I’m searching for one, and once I get one, we’re going to go on a run like that, too.”