NCAA First Round Recap - Murray State vs Vanderbilt
(13) Murray State 66, (4) Vanderbilt 65
Murray State (30-4, 17-1 MVC) came into the NCAA Tournament with a gaudy record, having won 21 of its last 22 games, including the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. The Racers also won the OVC regular season championship by two games over second-place Morehead State. Due to its high-flying offense and stifling defense, Murray State was a trendy pick to defeat Vanderbilt (24-8, 12-4 SEC) in this first-round NCAA game, despite the Commodores having finished second in the SEC.
The game began as a physical, back and forth battle where neither team could open up anything more than a six-point lead. Murray State held Vanderbilt’s big man in check as Commodore center A.J. Ogilvy managed only two points in the first half, and only 12 points for the game. As a result, Murray State raced into the locker room with a 36-32 lead.
For much of the second half, Murray State maintained a small lead. The Racers wouldn’t allow Vanderbilt to catch up, but they could not expand their lead to double digits, either. However, a mini-run by Vandy allowed the Commodores to finally tie the game at 52-all with 7:35 to go on two Brad Tinsley free throws. After Murray State retook the lead, Vanderbilt finally led the game for the first time since early in the first half after VU guard John Jenkins drained a three-pointer with under five minutes to go in the game.
What followed in the stretch run of this contest was a flurry of shots, fouls, and free throws, as the lead switched hands three more times, the last exchange being the most decisive. Murray's Danero Thomas broke down his defender off the dribble, created space on the right side of the court, and buried a deep, contested two-point shot at the buzzer to give the 13 seed a thrilling 66-65 win. The Thomas game winner almost didn’t happen, though. With seven seconds left, Murray's B.J. Jenkins took an ill-advised three-pointer from several feet behind the arc, despite the fact that the Racers trailed by only one point. Murray State got the ball back, though, as Vanderbilt’s Andre Walker hit the ball out of bounds while battling for a rebound. With 4.2 seconds left, Jeffery McClain inbounded the ball to Isacc Miles, who was well-covered. Miles, in turn, drove to the top of the key and kicked out a pass to Thomas, who made the greatest basket in Murray State history.
Both teams played well enough to win, but each left a lot of points on the court in the form of missed free throws. In a physical game involving two teams that prefer to pound the ball inside, free throw shooting will often make the difference. The Racers were only 9 of 17 from the line for the game. The Commodores finished the game with a better percentage, but due to going to the line 12 more times than Murray State, Vanderbilt managed to miss 12 attempts, shooting only 17 of 29 from the line.
On Saturday, No. 13 seed Murray State will take on the winner of the 5-12 seed game between Butler and Texas-El Paso.
By John Cary
DFN Sports Guest Writer