Brand-new Murray State fans popped up on the campuses of bubble teams throughout the nation on Saturday as the Racers tried to stave off Tennessee State's upset bid in the Ohio Valley Conference title game.
Only after a wild final sequence did Murray State ensure both its true fans and temporary fans could breathe a sigh of relief.
Jewuan Long's drove baseline, absorbed heavy contact and sank the go-ahead floater with 4.4 seconds left, lifting Murray State past Tennessee State 54-52 in a game the Racers trailed by seven with just over five minutes to go. The Tigers had a final chance on their last possession, but Robert Covington's three-pointer as time expired fell short.
"The final play definitely wasn't drawn up for me," Long told reporters after the game. "Donte drove in and my man helped off to him. When he passed off to me, my man closed out too strong and I was able to get around him and get off the floater."
The outcome avenged Murray State's lone loss of the season to Tennessee State last month and secured the OVC's automatic NCAA tournament bid for the Racers. Had Murray State lost on Saturday, the Tigers would have joined the Racers in the NCAA tournament, which would have cost an unlucky bubble team its spot.
Expect to hear plenty of debate the next eight days over where Murray State should be seeded because the Tigers present the selection committee an unusual challenge.
On the one hand, their 30-1 record will be as good as anyone in the nation besides perhaps Kentucky and Syracuse. On the other hand, their conference is one of the nation's weakest and they only have four wins against potential NCAA tournament teams: Memphis, Saint Mary's, Southern Mississippi and Dayton.
In the past, teams with gaudy records but modest strength of schedule have received a wide range of seeds, from 27-1 Saint Joseph's No. 1 seed in 2004, to 28-1 Princeton's No. 5 seed in 1998, to 26-1 George Washington's No. 8 seed in 2006. Murray State's current profile would seem to suggest it will land somewhere between a No. 4 and No. 6 seed, though Murray State coach Prohm believes the Racers merit better.
"If you really look at our body of work, you can make an argument for a two seed," Prohm said. "Our non-conference RPI is a two. We haven't lost a non-conference game. We haven't lost a road game all season. We have three top-35 RPI wins. When you
factor all that into the equation and then factor in that we're 30-1, you have to say, 'Wow'. We're not 30-1 by mistake."
Regardless of where Murray State is seeded, one thing is clear: With Canaan playing at an all-American level and his supporting cast providing timely support, the Racers are a real threat to make the NCAA tournament's second week.
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