No. 12 Murray St. edges Tenn. St. 54-52 for OVC

TERESA M. WALKER AP Sports Writer Published:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The 12th-ranked Murray State Racers gave some breathing room for the NCAA tournament to somebody.

Just barely.

Jewuan Long drove the baseline for a layup with 4.4 seconds left, and Murray State rallied from seven points down in the final 5:28 to beat Tennessee State 54-52 for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship Saturday and the automatic NCAA tournament berth.

Had Tennessee State won it, the Racers would have probably received an at-large bid, bursting another team's tournament bubble.

Isaiah Canaan stripped Tigers guard Patrick Miller of the ball driving to the basket, and Long guarded Robert Covington on his 3-pointer at the buzzer to preserve the win, getting the Racers to 30-1 and avoiding a second loss to the only team to beat them this season.

Covington led Tennessee State (20-12) with 14 points, and Kellen Thornton had 11.

Now the Racers are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010 when they went 31-5 and beat Vanderbilt in the first round.

Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole each scored 14 points for the Racers.

Fittingly since the Tigers are the only team to beat Murray State, this game couldn't have been much tighter with 10 ties and 11 lead changes. Murray State led 29-27 at halftime, then came out and looked early as if it was trying to help the OVC put two teams into the NCAA tournament.

Most of the fans at Municipal Auditorium dressed in Racers' blue and yellow, but the Racers were sloppy as they started the second half missing their first six shots. They didn't hit their first field goal until 14:27 was left on a 3 by Long. That was part of a 12-2 run as the Racers rallied from a 38-31 deficit, and Jackson's layup put the Racers up 43-40 with 8:28 left. Tennessee State answered with 10 straight points to go back up 50-43 on Rhett's jumper with 5:28 left.

That set up a furious finish.

Tennessee State last led 52-48 when M.J. Rhett dunked with 3:46 left. Ivan Aska answered, then Ed Daniel hit two free throws with 1:01 left for his only points of the game tying it up.

Miller had another turnover with 30 seconds left for Tennessee State. That allowed the Racers to run out most of the rest of the game before Canaan found Long in the left corner. Long drove the baseline and scored, giving him six points for the game.

Tennessee State twice led by as much as seven in the second half. The Racers came back each time.

The Tigers outshot Murray State 46.8 percent (22 of 47) compared to 37.5 percent (18 of 48). They also outrebounded Murray 34-24. But the Racers scored 15 points off Tennessee State's 18 turnovers and had a big edge at the free throw line, hitting 14 of 16 while the Tigers hit 5 of 10.

Maybe it was the quick turnaround from the semifinals Friday night, but both teams struggled in the first half. Murray State, the nation's third-best 3-point shooting team averaging 48.4 percent, hit only 1 of 10 beyond the arc in the first half. Tennessee State outshot Murray State in the first half but hurt itself with twice as many turnovers (12-6), and the Racers turned those into nine points.

The result was a tight first 20 minutes with eight ties and seven lead changes, and Murray State had the biggest lead, at 15-11 midway through the half. Covington blocked Aska going for a layup at one point, then tried to dunk over the 6-foot-7 Aska on the other end late in the half only to clank his try off the rim.