Murray State rallies to remain unbeaten
Donte Poole helped undefeated Murray State overcome a nine-point deficit to take the lead. Then, with the Racers sputtering again, Poole gave a knowing glance to Isaiah Canaan.
''If we're down at certain times and I give him a look I mean, we need to go, we need to pick it up,'' Canaan said. ''He gave me the same look.''
Canaan scored 20 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:57 left, and No. 12 Murray State beat Morehead State 66-60 on Wednesday night in its toughest Ohio Valley Conference challenge so far.
Murray State (19-0, 7-0) trailed by nine with just under 13 minutes to play before rallying behind Canaan and Poole to remain one of two unbeaten teams in men's Division I basketball along with No. 1 Syracuse.
''We can't win by 30 or 20 by every game,'' said Poole, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half. ''I think being in this situation, being down, having to face adversity will help us in the long run, knowing that we can be pressured, we can be on the verge of defeat, so I think it will help us tremendously.''
Drew Kelly scored 20 points for Morehead State (9-11, 3-4) before running into foul trouble. The Eagles led 46-37 after a basket by Milton Chavis, but the Racers rallied, using a 10-0 run to take the lead against the defending OVC tournament champions.
''I'm more disappointed, but we are encouraged that we held with them. They are the best team in our conference,'' Kelly said. ''They're the tougher team tonight and they out-toughed us.''
Murray State joined Cleveland State as the only two teams in Division I with eight road wins this season.
It was the first Top 25 opponent Morehead State had ever faced at Johnson Arena, which opened 31 years ago and the highest ranked team to come to Morehead since No. 9 Western Kentucky on Feb. 20, 1971. It also was shaping up to be a major upset.
Chavis gave Morehead State a seven-point lead with 12:59 left before the Eagles went cold and Murray State took advantage despite playing without leading rebounder Ivan Aska for the fifth straight game because of a broken hand.
Poole scored on a fast-break dunk after a turnover, hit three of four free throws and buried a 3-pointer in the left corner as part of a 10-0 run that made it 47-46 and gave the Racers their first lead since 2-0.
''He started putting pressure on the basket,'' Murray State coach Steve Prohm said. ''When Donte's putting pressure on the basket and getting to the free-throw line, I think that's when he's at his best.''
Khalil Owens fouled out with 8:15 left, taking the Eagles' biggest player at 250 pounds off the floor during the stretch, but Morehead State regained the lead 51-49 when Angelo Warner converted a four-point play after hitting a 3 and being fouled by Latreze Mushatt, who put his hands on his head in disbelief.
Zay Jackson's 3 put the Racers back up 54-53, but Mushatt fouled out, and Chavis hit two free throws to give the Eagles a one-point advantage. Canaan answered with his 26-foot 3-pointer that gave Murray State a 57-55 lead in the aftermath of Poole's glare.
''We just read each other sometimes. It's kind of funny, kind of weird,'' Poole said. ''It's a motivating thing.''
After the teams traded points, Poole hit a step-back jumper from 19 feet then made the first of two foul shots to give the Racers a 62-57 lead with 56 seconds to go. Lamont Austin drove to the basket and score to make it 62-59 with 39 seconds left, but the Eagles could get no closer as Poole and Canaan hit the final four free throws to seal it.
These two teams have alternating representing the Ohio Valley Conference in the NCAA tournament the last three years, and the Eagles made a strong statement that they won't relinquish the conference title quietly despite losing at home to Murray State for the first time in four years.
Murray State won the regular season title in the OVC last year, but never made it to the OVC finals. Instead, Morehead State won the tournament behind Kenneth Faried and went on to knock out Louisville in the NCAA tournament before falling in the second round to Richmond. Faried was picked in the first round of the NBA draft by Denver this past summer.
After Canaan's clutch game, Eagles coach Donnie Tyndall said he sees similarities between the guard and Faried.
''He's Murray State's point guard version of our Kenneth Faried a year ago. He's probably the best point guard, mid-major point guard in America like Kenneth was the best mid-major big guy in America,'' Tyndall said. ''He's the guy who's going to have the ball in his hands. He's a very, very talented guy.''