Murray State falls just short in NCAAs once again
By NANCY ARMOUR
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Murray State came up just short.
Less than eight minutes from making their first-ever trip to the NCAA regional semifinals, the Racers couldn't hold onto the lead and wound up falling to Marquette 62-53 on Saturday night. Jae Crowder scored six points for Marquette during a decisive 14-2 run, and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
"I told them in the locker room that I just - I wish I could have figured out a way to get them through the last seven minutes," Racers coach Steve Prohm said. "I don't think we wore down. We've got a tough, resilient group ... We just didn't finish some plays on the offensive end that we had to do in order to withstand some of their run-outs and some of their execution, and we didn't."
It's the second time in three years Murray State (31-2) has failed to get out of the first weekend. Though this wasn't as gut-wrenchingly close as 2010, when Murray State lost to Butler by two points after Isaiah Canaan mishandled the ball with 10 seconds left, it is sure to sting, especially after the season the Racers had.
They won their first 23 games of the season, were the last team in the country to lose and showed against Marquette (27-7) they can play with anyone.
"We thought we would come out with a win," said Donte Poole, who managed just seven points - half his average - while playing with the broken nose he sustained in Thursday's win over Colorado State.
"For it to end like this, you're upset," Poole added. "But you've just got to look at all the great things we've done this season, as well."
Canaan had 16 points and six rebounds for the sixth-seeded Racers and Jewuan Long added 12 points. Ed Daniel tied a career high with 14 rebounds.
Despite a decided size advantage - Prohm joked Crowder and Johnson-Odom were missing spring practice somewhere - the Golden Eagles could never quite get in sync against the speedy, aggressive Racers. That Marquette was essentially playing a road game couldn't have helped.
Plenty of Racers fans made the 3 1-2-hour drive for the game, and Kentucky fans jumped on the bandwagon in a show of state solidarity. When Jewuan Long made a layup to put the Racers up 46-41 with 7:43 to play, the crowd responded with the kind of roar usually reserved for that other Kentucky team.
But the Golden Eagles plenty of practice at rallying during the regular season, when they came back to win six games after trailing by 11 or more points, and never doubted they could come back against the Racers.
"Eight minutes," Darius Johnson-Odom said, "is like 30 minutes."
Todd Mayo made a pair of free throws, and Crowder banked in a jumper off the glass. Davante Gardner, who missed eight games at the end of the season with a left knee strain, followed with a layup and a pair of free throws to put Marquette back in front 49-46.
Ivan Aska briefly halted the Marquette run with a putback, but the Golden Eagles kept right on going. After another Gardner layup, Crowder took a charge and then came down to the other end and coolly drilled a 3, sending the outnumbered Marquette fans into a frenzy.
"When you're playing a team like Murray State, they're going to keep throwing punches and throwing punches, and you have to find a way to slow them down," Johnson-Odom said. "We did a great job of that today."
Even the university president, the Rev. Scott Pilarz, was pumping his fist and screaming, "We are! Marquette!"
"We were a couple plays from closing the game out and I just wanted to make the next big play," said Crowder, the Big East player of the year. "I really wanted to make that play defensively, and it worked out in my favor. I just wanted to try to get a steal, a charge, a rebound, something. I just wanted to make that play. I knew at that time it was big in the game, and it was the next big stop that we needed."
Crowder added another free throw before Long was able to end a four-minute scoring drought. But it was too late. The Racers were just 2 of 12 with five turnovers over the last 7:43.
Murray State shot just 31 percent for the game, including 9 of 35 in the second half.
"We proved today that we belong, and we belonged on a national stage," Prohm said. "We just weren't good enough the last seven minutes."
Follow Nancy Armour at www.twitter.com/nrarmour
Updated March 17, 2012