MURRAY, Ky. (AP) Murray State has brought another basketball championship trophy home to Kentucky.
Joining 2012 and 2013 NCAA champions Kentucky and Louisville, the Racers won the CIT title Thursday night with a 65-57 victory over Yale. Murray State’s triumph in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament comes two years after it won the Ohio Valley Conference championship, advanced to the NCAA tournament and upset Colorado State before losing to Marquette.
Murray State has been on a good run.
After losing high-scoring guard Isaiah Canaan, the Racers advanced to the OVC semifinals before losing to eventual champion Eastern Kentucky. But Murray State (23-11) rebounded to win five straight in the CIT.
While most of the state is focused on the Kentucky Wildcats in this weekend’s Final Four, the Racers are celebrating a title of their own.
”There are only four teams that are going to win a tournament championship this spring; we’re one of them and blessed to do so,” Murray State coach Steve Prohm said. ”We’ll take a little bit of time away and get back at it in a couple of weeks.”
The Racers can savor being the latest team Kentucky program to add hardware to its trophy case.
The Wildcats face Wisconsin in Saturday night’s semifinal in Arlington, Texas, in pursuit of their second NCAA title in three years and ninth overall. Kentucky has rebounded from losing three of five down the stretch to win six of seven in postseason, including last week’s defeat of rival and defending champion Louisville at the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis.
The Racers have averaged 25 wins under Prohm, who served the previous five years as an assistant before taking over for Billy Kennedy before the 2011-12 season.
Despite losing 2,000-point scorer Canaan and returning just one senior in guard Dexter Fields, the Racers were picked as OVC West Division co-favorites. They finished second and lost to EKU in the tournament but caught fire in the CIT with an offense that averaged 80 points per game.
Freshman Cameron Payne picked up where Canaan left off, leading the Racers with 19.8 points per contest entering the final, where he scored 24 and Jarvis Williams 16.
Javier Duran had 18 points for Yale (19-14).
Though the CIT title carries a lesser profile than an NCAA or NIT trophy, Murray State takes a lot of pride in winning it. Considering the Racers only lose Fields, he believes they can continue their successful run that has culminated in another championship for the Bluegrass State.
”This feels great,” said guard Dexter Fields, the team’s lone senior. ”Watching these guys grow from November to now, it’s been exciting to watch. I’m just excited to watch these guys next year. They came out here and fought their tails off every day in this tournament. I give credit to them.”