The Sullivan Arena scoreboard indicated that Murray State eked out a 64-62 victory over the UAA men's basketball team Wednesday night in the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, but for much of the second half -- for pretty much all but the final two minutes, in fact -- the game looked and felt like it was well in the hands of the Racers.
It was a 3-pointer at the buzzer by UAA newcomer Abebe Demissie that accounted for the two-point difference, and it was a furious comeback in the final 85 seconds that allowed the Seawolves to erase a double-digit deficit against the undefeated Racers of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Silky, lights-out shooting by 6-foot guard Isaiah Canaan, who scored 17 of his team-high 19 points in the second half, helped Murray State take command after a close first half that ended with a 24-23 UAA lead.
Three times Murray State (5-0) crafted an 11-point lead, the last time when Canaan's open 3-pointer from the baseline gave the Racers a 60-49 lead with less than three minutes left.
Then the Seawolves (0-1) turned into the scary team Division I coaches worry about when they draw UAA in the Shootout. Behind 6-foot-9 Taylor Rohde's scoring touch inside, UAA charged back with a 10-2 run to whittle Murray State's lead to 62-59 with seven seconds left. Eight of those points came in the final 85 seconds.
Ivan Aska sank two free throws for Murray State with five seconds left when the Seawolves were forced to foul. Those shots made it 64-59 and, stunningly, proved to be the difference when Demissie knocked down his 3-pointer with time expiring.
Murray State coach Steve Prohm admitted he thought the Racers were well in control when Stacy Wilson's steal and layup opened up a 55-44 lead with 5 minutes, 2 seconds left.
"I think we all did," Prohm said. "I've gotta keep my guys more focused. There was a lot of slippage in those last five minutes."
And with the slippage came shrinkage, as Murray State's seemingly comfortable lead all but vanished. Rohde did much of the damage by scoring 11 of UAA's final 15 points, with three of his buckets coming off Travis Thompson assists. He missed a few free throws along the way, but not until the final minute did those misses loom large.
"Whatever the score is, we play hard. Every play we keep that mentality," Rohde said. "We make some free throws, it'd be a different game."
The Racers used quick bursts at the beginning of both halves to put UAA in catch-up mode. They raced to a 9-2 lead in the first half and wiped out UAA's one-point halftime lead with a 10-3 run triggered by consecutive steals at the start of the second half.
"It was a difficult first game," said UAA coach Rusty Osborne, whose team played two exhibition games three weeks ago but didn't play another exhibition until Saturday's alumni game. "I think it hurt us that we didn't play."
Osborne was quick to say the Seawolves aren't into moral victories, but he was encouraged that they aren't into giving up, either.
"We could've quit when we got down in the first four minutes and we could've quit again when the lead hit double digits," he said.
Murray State was quicker and more athletic than the Seawolves, and in the second half the Racers' perimeter shooters looked impossible to stop.
Canaan, who was a less-than-memorable 1 of 3 in the first half, made his mark as soon as the second half started, turning a steal into a layup and free throw. Two minutes later, he drilled a 3-pointer and only missed once the rest of the way en route to a 7-of-10 second half that earned him a team-high 19 points.
"It's very important to see that first one go through the net. Your eyes as a shooter should brighten," Canaan said. "They were trying to take it to me and they did a pretty good job of it in the first half, but I stayed aggressive. I had to take it at them."
Behind Canaan, Murray State shot 62.5 percent in the second half after a 34.8 percent first half. The Racers got their share of second shots, thanks to a 26-rebound effort that included nine offensive boards.
The Seawolves finished with a better shooting percentage than the Racers -- 57.1 to 48.9. Their downfall was turnovers -- 20 of them, including 12 in the second half, some of them on consecutive possessions -- and free throw shooting. The Seawolves hit 7 of 13 from the line -- which is what they hit from 3-point range too.
Rohde led UAA with 19 points and six rebounds despite sitting for much of the first half after drawing two quick fouls. He accounted for 17 of UAA's 38 second-half points. Steve White added 14, dished five assists and was 2 of 3 from 3-point range while working up a sweat on both ends of the court.
"People saw what he's all about in the second half," Osborne said.
Aska and Donte Poole each scored 13 points and Wilson added 12 for Murray State, and Canaan had four of his team's 10 steals.
Prohm, who is in his first season as head coach of the Racers, said he was relieved to get past UAA. Earlier in the day he said that folks in Murray, Ohio, care about two things when it comes to sports -- the St. Louis Cardinals and Racers basketball -- and a loss to a D-II team, even one ranked 17th in the nation, wouldn't go over well back home.
"The whole town's awake watching this," he said. "They're critiquing us online right now."
Murray State next plays in Friday's semifinals and UAA is off today too. Osborne said the Seawolves, who play again at noon Friday, won't even practice today due to limits on how many times a team can practice or play in a week.
Not that he minds that his players will get a break.
"That was an intense basketball game and that's an early game for us Friday," he said. "I think the rest will be good for us."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
MURRAY STATE (64) -- Daniel 2-2 1-3 5; Poole 4-7 2-2 13; Aska 4-11 5-5 13; Canaan 7-10 3-4 19; Long 1-4 0-0 2; Wilson 5-7 0-0 12; Mushatt 0-2 0-0 0; Jackson 0-3 0-0 0; Garrett 0-1 0-0 0.
UAA ( 62) -- Hearn 2-3 0-0 5; Rohde 7-8 5-9 19; Ridgeway 2-4 2-4 6; White 6-9 0-0 14; Fossman 0-1 0-0 0; Thompson 3-6 0-0 8; Lauwers 0-1 0-0 0; Demissie 3-7 0-0 8; Weitzel 0-1 0-0 0; Gibcus 1-2 0-0 2.
MURRAY STATE 23 41 -- 64
UAA 24 38 -- 62
3-point goals -- MSU 7-16 (Poole 3-4, Aska 0-1, Canaan 2-4, Long 0-1, Wilson 2-3, Jackson 0-3); UAA 7-13 (Hearn 1-1, White 2-3, Thompson 2-5, Lauwers 0-1, Demissie 2-3). Total fouls -- MSU 21, UAA 16. Fouled out -- MSU (Garrett), UAA (none). Rebounds -- MSU 26 (Aska, Mushatt 5); UAA 20 (Rohde 6). Assists -- MSU 13 (Long, 5); UAA 16 (White, 5). Turnovers -- MSU 18 (Poole, 5); UAA 20 (Ridgeway, Fossman, 4). Steals -- MSU 10 (Canaan, 4); UAA 4 (Hearn, 2). Blocks -- MSU 2, UAA 1 (Hearn). Officials -- Hernandez, Cota, McNew.
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News