The best players show up on the biggest stages.
And this statement could not have been more true on Thursday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
In a triumphant back and forth battle that needed overtime to decide a winner, the No. 7 seeded Murray State Racers emerged victorious over the No. 10 San Francisco Dons, 92-87, in first round action of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
“What a game,” Murray State head coach Matt McMahon said following the Racers’ win. “That's what the NCAA Tournament is all about and that's why it's the greatest event in the world. I'm proud of our guys. That game defined our team. That's just who they are. They find ways to win. Their toughness and will to win is incredibly special. I'm proud of them for their fight. We battled some foul trouble, battled some cramp and different guys stepped up.”
The Racers received lights-out performances from guards Juice Hill, Tevin Brown and Trae Hannibal, while forward KJ Williams continued his dominance in the paint.
Hannibal and Williams led the way with 18 points each while Brown added 17 and Hill finished with 15.
In addition to the superb play from this foursome, Murray adopted an all hands on deck approach when foul trouble and injuries began to plague them late.
Jordan Skipper-Brown and DaQuan Smith each churned out big minutes down the stretch as Skipper-Brown notched a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Smith added five points including a huge 3-point basket as things began to heat up midway through the second half.
Experience was a key factor and edge for Murray State entering Thursday night’s bout with the Dons, and after the dust settled, it was clear having players like Brown and Williams was the ultimate game changer down the stretch.
Knowing what it's like to perform and execute on the game’s biggest stage, Brown said being in this spot before
“It really helps us a lot because being in those situations builds our character,” Brown said. “We know how to be calm and collected in those types of situations. So we just continue to play our game.”
For a player like Hannibal who’s never been seen the bright lights of the NCAA tourney, the sophomore guard said team chemistry
“This team's chemistry helps a lot with everything that's gone on,” Hannibal said. “It's a 40-minute game. That's all Coach Mac preaches, to go out there and play hard for 40 minutes, and whoever goes out there with the most effort and a lot of fight is going to come out on top.”
The Racers did their best to pull away in the waning minutes of regulation but the Dons refused to fold behind Jamaree Bouyea’s game-high 36 points.
Bouyea put the team on his back, hitting a number of big triples (4-12) including the game-tying 3-point basket to send the game to overtime tied 73-all.
In the overtime period, Brown scored six of his 17, Williams added six of his 18 and Skipper-Brown took over, scoring five of his 12 while crashing the boards to help lead the Racers past USF in dramatic fashion.
Following the 85-79 upset win by No. 15 Saint Peter's over No. 2 Kentucky in overtime, the Racers will now take on the Peacocks with a shot at reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history on Saturday night.
Looking ahead to Saturday night’s matchup, McMahon praised Saint Peter’s defensive prowess but said he expects his guys to seize the opportunity and come prepared for battle over the next two days.
“We're very familiar with them. Very well-coached. Incredibly tough. One of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball,” McMahon said. “Not just my opinion, the numbers show that. I didn't get to see the game tonight but I'm assuming they must have had a heck of a performance. We know it will be a great challenge on Saturday but we’re certainly looking forward to it. As I told our players after the game in the locker room, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the opportunity to win a game and go to the Sweet 16. I'm sure our players will recover quickly and be locked in and ready to go tomorrow as we start our preparation.”
1H 2H OT F
San Francisco 37 36 14 87
Murray State 36 37 19 92
Murray State: Hannibal 18, Williams 18, Brown 17, Hill 15, Skipper-Brown 12, Burns 6, Smith 5, McMullen 1.
Field goals: 31-64. 3-pointers: 6-21 (Brown (3), Williams (2) and Smith). Rebs: 43. Ast: 17. TO: 12. Stls: 5. Blks: 1. Free throws: 24-35. Fouls: 21. Record: 31-2, (18-0).
San Francisco: Bouyea 36, Meeks 13, Tape 10, Kunen 8, Rishwain 8, Stefanini 7, Shabazz 3, Markovetskyy 2.
Field goals: 32-68. 3-pointers: 9-35 (Bouyea (4), Meeks (2), Rishwain, Shabazz and Stefanini). Rebs: 35. Ast: 10. TO: 9. Stls: 7. Blks: 6. Free throws: 14-22. Fouls: 24. Record: 24-10 (10-6).