Tennessee St.-Murray St. Preview

JEFF MEZYDLO
The Associated Press

Murray State is one win away from adding to its record total of Ohio Valley Conference tournament titles. Standing in the way is the only team that's defeated the Racers this season.

The top-seeded, 12th-ranked Racers try for a 15th league tournament title when they face Tennessee State in Saturday's championship game in Nashville.

Murray State (29-1) was 23-0 entering play Feb. 9, when it blew a 13-point lead and lost 72-68 at home to Tennessee State. The Racers, who along with Kentucky and Syracuse are the nation's only one-loss teams, avenged that defeat two weeks later when they shot 56.5 percent in an 80-62 road victory over the Tigers.

"It was pretty bad,'' Tennessee State leading scorer Robert Covington said.

The Tigers will now try to prevent the Racers from winning their second tournament title in three seasons. The Feb. 9 contest is Murray State's has only loss in its last 10 meetings with Tennessee State.

"We just don't want it to end,'' Racers senior guard Donte Poole said. "Everything has to end at some point. Our goal here was to win the championship while we're here. We want to win at least every single game we can and take this as long as we can get it.''

Poole scored 25 points and Isaiah Canaan added 18 as Murray State shot 54.9 percent in Friday's 78-58 semifinal win over Tennessee Tech, its sixth straight victory since falling to the Tigers. Those six wins have come by an average margin of 14.2 points as the Racers have shot 52.0 percent.

"They're good,'' Tennessee Tech coach Steve Payne said. "Their record is what it is, and they are ranked what they are ranked for a reason. I don't know how you can look at them and say they are not a great basketball team."

Canaan, the OVC player of the year, has averaged 20.8 points in his last four games. The junior guard has scored 55 points while shooting 18 of 25 in this season's two games against Tennessee State in 2011-12. He finished with 31 in the loss to the Tigers.

Second-seeded Tennessee State (20-11) is in its first OVC championship game since 2008, following a 59-52 semifinal victory over Morehead State on Friday. The Tigers won back-to-back OVC tournament titles in 1993 and 1994.

Despite hitting his head while chasing a loose ball, Covington scored 14 points Friday as the Tigers shot 52.6 percent while holding Morehead State to 35.7 percent from the field. Tennessee State has won 10 of 11 to record the school's first 20-win season since 1978-79.

"To get to where they are right now, we're not finished, but to get to 20 wins, at this point, we've come a long way," coach John Cooper said. "To be able to do what we've done this year, I'm certainly proud of our group."

Covington, third in the league with 18.1 points per game during the regular season, scored 41 on 16-of-27 shooting and pulled down 23 rebounds in the two games versus Murray State this season. The 6-foot-9 junior had 24 points and 15 boards in the Feb. 23 loss to the Racers.