Murray St. 88, Austin Peay 85
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Murray State coach Mark Gottfried is ready to take his Racers to the ``Greatest Show on Earth.″
``The NCAA is the greatest show on earth and I’ve been there a few times but this trip has to be the sweetest,″ Gottfried said after his Racers tripped Austin Peay 88-85 in overtime Saturday to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title and the league’s automatic NCAA berth.
But, if not for a late, desperate 3-point shot by DeTeri Mayes which forced overtime and an eight-point effort by Darren Dawson in the extra period, the Racers (20-9) would be heading home instead.
``Our guys just kept making the plays that had to be made. I’m very thankful for that. A year ago I had to fight back tears but it was because we were on the other side (of a 70-68 loss to the Governors in the title game),″ said Gottfried, a former UCLA assistant.
Chad Townsend, the tournament MVP, scored 28 points for Murray State and Dawson scored eight of his 15 points in overtime as the Racers avenged last year’s tournament loss.
Austin Peay (17-14), the tournament’s top seed, and the Racers were tied 79-79 before the Racers took the lead for good on a tip by Aaron Page with 45 seconds left in the extra period.
Two free throws each by Aaron Page, Dawson and Townsend offset baskets by Austin Peay’s Colby Pierce and Mike Witherspoon to leave the Racers in front 87-83 with 21 seconds left.
Bubba Wells, who topped Austin Peay with 38 points, pulled the Governors within 87-85 with a follow shot.
Murray State’s Dawson then missed two free throws with 9.6 seconds remaining, but Racers center Matt Harris came up with a crucial rebound.
The Governors’ fouled Dawson again and he made one of two shots, leaving Murray State ahead 88-85 with 4.4 seconds left.
Austin Peay rushed the basketball down court but Wells was unable to connect on a desperation 3-point shot at the buzzer.
Murray State, which has earned two NCAA and two NIT bids in the past four seasons, almost didn’t make it into overtime. It took a twisting 3-point jumper by Mayes with 16 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 69-69.
Mayes finished with 20 points for the Racers, while Vincent Rainey added 16.
Reggie Crenshaw, with 15 points, was the only other Austin Peay player to finish in double figures.
Wells, who also grabbed 10 rebounds, set an OVC tournament scoring record with 99 points in three games. The old record was 89 points set by Carlos Rogers of Tennessee State in 1994.
Austin Peay coach Dave Loos said Murray State is capable of pulling off an upset or two in the NCAA tournament.
``I think anybody who comes out of the OVC can be a nightmare for any team,″ Loos said. ``If I was one of those No. 3 seeds like we (the OVC) usually get, I’d be concerned.″