Savage Defense Carries Governors to NCAA Tournament
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Bubba Wells had 35 points and Reggie Crenshaw made the winning free throws, but Austin Peay has forward Jermaine Savage to thank for its first NCAA turnament berth since 1987.
While Wells and Crenshaw shared the spotlight during Saturday’s 70-68 victory over Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship game, Savage was putting on a defensive show against the Racers’ high-scoring Marcus Brown.
Brown entered the game averaging 26.6 points a game. Thanks to Savage, Brown had only two points at halftime and wound up 5-of-15 from the field for 14 points.
``Brown is a great offensive player, but I think I’m a great defensive player,″ said Savage, who was spelled occasionally by Cole Casbon.
``Defense is a matter of pride. I’ve got a lot of pride,″ Savage said with a grin.
With the game tied at 68 and Murray State in possession, Crenshaw said he only wanted to ``hit the boards hard.″
When Brown threw up a desperation shot with two seconds remaining, the 6-foot-7 Crenshaw latched onto the ball and Murray State’s Vincent Rainey was called for a foul.
``I did get fouled,″ said Crenshaw, who finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. ``There were three or four (Murray State players) around me. I don’t think the refs decided the game _ I think we had something to do with it.″
Crenshaw’s first free throw hit the back and the front of the rim before settling through.
After Crenshaw hit his second shot, the Racers (19-9), the No. 1 seed and the regular-season OVC champions, called a timeout.
A full-court pass never found its mark and the clock ran out before Murray State could get off a shot.
``It’s tough to accept it when a game ends like that,″ first-year Murray State coach Mark Gottfried said. ``It’s very frustrating for the team after they worked hard all season and to have a dream of going to the NCAA tournament and for it to end like that is really tough.
``Some things in life you just have to accept,″ the former UCLA assistant said. ``We win with class and we’ll lose with class. I hope Austin Peay represents the league well.″
A three-point play by Wells, who also had eight rebounds and blocked three shots, gave the Governors a 67-65 lead.
Brown’s 3-pointer from the top of the key at 1:26 left put the Racers on top 68-67.
Wells, who scored 15 of Austin Peay’s last 19 points and was named the tournament MVP, then hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 68 with 11 seconds left and set up Crenshaw’s dramatic free throws.
Austin Peay coach Dave Loos has rebuilt the Governors’ program into a NCAA tournament team in his sixth season.
The Governors (19-10) caught fire late in the season, winning 10 of their last 11 games.
``It’s been a lot of hard work by the coaching staff and players. It’s been a long, hard road, but it’s been worth it,″ Loos said. ``I’m very thankful for and appreciative of the guys I coach. The last 11 games have been an unbelievable ride.″