Moments after Murray State became the last Division I men’s team to lose, junior guard Isaiah Canaan was the last to stumble into the Racers’ locker room.
Once he crossed the threshold into the place where the No. 7 ranked team in the country gets prepared every day, Canaan sought out first-year head coach Steve Prohm and said, “We’re alright, Coach.”
From there, Prohm knew everything was going to be fine.
Tennessee State did what few thought possible on Thursday night, beating the previously undefeated Racers 72-68 in front of a sold-out crowd at the CFSB Center.
Once the final buzzer sounded, however, and the Racers realized the zero at the end of their record was no more, Prohm found solace in his star players’ words.
“It’s okay,” Prohm said. “I love every one of those guys, and I think those guys have a lot of respect for each other. You know, Isaiah was the last in the locker room and he looks at me and says, ‘We’re alright, Coach,’ so we are going to be fine.”
From there, Prohm answered a few more questions, then left.
What remained — ironically enough — were questions that nobody was prepared to answer, not on that night, anyway.
“I didn’t think (the loss) was going to happen tonight,” Prohm said. “Tennessee State is a very good team, and I worry about every game, but I was worried about this game because I knew they were very talented, but I thought at home, I thought we would be able to handle their runs.”
Thursday night’s loss wasn’t as much about sustaining the Tigers’ runs, as much as it was about containing Tennessee State’s penetration and closing out their missed shots on the defensive end of the floor.
The Racers gave up eight offensive rebounds in the second half alone, and senior guard Jewuan Long said a combination of things that Prohm had been preaching about, were the difference in a game that Long feared might come.
“We let them drive the ball some and get open shots, and coach has been preaching to us every game about the other team getting offensive rebounds,” Prohm said. “It bit us today. It finally hurt us today, and that’s a big part of why we lost, them driving the ball and the offensive rebounds.”
Even with some admitted struggles in the execution phase on Thursday night, it wasn’t as if the Racers were on ‘upset watch’ for most of the night.
In fact, it was quite the contrary.
Murray State led by as many as 13 in the second half, but little by little, the Tigers, now officially the Ohio Valley Conference’s hottest team, kept inching closer.
Tennessee State took its first lead of the second half with 7:17 left to play on a jumper from Kellen Thornton, but watched the lead go right back to the Racers after a pair of Ivan Aska free throws.
Wil Peters’ three-pointer 20 seconds later put Tennessee State ahead 59-57, but a counter-three from Canaan put the Racers back in front.
Jordan Cyphers hits a jumper with 5:39 left to play to push the Tigers back in front 61-60, and this time, it was for good.
Murray State was able to tie the game at 62-62 with 4:25 left to play on a pair of free throws from Latreze Mushatt, but Murray State would never get closer than a basket down the stretch.
Trailing 69-65, Canaan drew a foul on a made lay-up, then knocked down the foul shot to put Murray State down 69-68.
On the ensuing possession, Tennessee State’s Patrick Miller committed a turnover, giving Murray State the ball back with ten seconds left.
Long lost Canaan on the inbounds play, and the Racers were left to send Robert Covington to the line to try to seal the game for the Tigers.
Covington missed both free throws, but following the rebound, Canaan had the ball stripped by a sea of Tennessee State players while trying to get to the rim to tie the game with two seconds remaining.
A free throw from Cyphers sealed the victory for Tennessee State, and despite a 31-point performance from Canaan, the Racers were no longer perfect.
As the Racers now prepare for their next game after a loss for the first time this season, Aska said Murray State will continue to focus on the same things that got them to where they were.
“It’s not the end of anything,” Aska said. “We just have to move on. Tomorrow in practice, when we go over Austin Peay’s stuff and our stuff, we just have to lock in and do the right things and listen to details.
“We will let this be a lesson learned, and other than that, we will be alright.”