GAME NOTES: The conference's top two seeds meet in the in the championship game of the 2012 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament this afternoon in Nashville, as the Tennessee State Tigers take on the Murray State Racers with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
Tennessee State earned the second seed in the tournament and gained a crucial double-bye into the semifinals, where it defeated defending tournament champion Morehead State, 59-52. The Tigers reached a couple of milestones with the victory, as they reached the 20-win plateau for the first time since the 1978-79 season, and they have made it to the OVC title tilt for the first time since 2008.
Murray State has dominated the competition in the OVC this season, going 29-1 overall and 15-1 in conference en route to its No. 12 ranking in the current AP poll. It is in good company with its record, as Kentucky and Syracuse are the only other teams in the country to have registered just a single loss. The Racers also received a double-bye in this tournament, defeating Tennessee Tech with ease on Friday in the semifinal round, 78-58. Though Murray State is a shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament regardless of tonight's outcome, it would surely welcome its 15th OVC Tournament Championship.
Murray State has a healthy advantage in the all-time series with Tennessee State, 47-16, although the Tigers thwarted the hopes of the Racers' perfect season by handing them their only loss on Feb 9.
Tennessee State looked to be in trouble early in the game against Morehead State, as star forward Robert Covington had to leave in the first half after suffering what appeared to be a head injury, but after checking out fine in the locker room, he was able to return to score a game-high 14 points to lift the team to victory. Patrick Miller and Jordan Cyphers each scored 13 points for the Tigers, which shot an impressive 52.6 percent from the field against a tough Eagle zone defense. Covington was named to the All-OVC First Team as he leads the team in both scoring (18.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.1 rpg). The junior is the only player in the conference to rank inside the top three in scoring and rebounding. Miller (10.9 ppg, 3.4 apg) and Kellen Thornton (9.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg) also do their part in helping the league's fourth-best offense, which scores 69.3 ppg.
Murray State controlled every facet of its semifinal-round matchup against Tennessee Tech, as it shot 54.9 percent from the field, held the Golden Eagles to 39.3 percent, scored 19 fast-break points and held a 42-20 advantage in points in the paint. Donte Poole scored 25 points to lead the Racers, while Isiah Canaan added 18 points and Ed Daniel chipped in with 11. MSU has been outstanding at both ends of the court this season, ranking first in the OVC in both field goal percentage (.478) and field goal percentage defense (.421). The Racers have the OVC Player of the Year on their side in Canaan, who ranks second in scoring at 19.4 ppg, dishes out 3.8 apg and hits an outstanding 3.2 three-pointers per contest at a 48.4 percent clip. They are far from a one-man show however, as Poole (13.9 ppg, 2.0 spg), Ivan Aska (11.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Jewaun Long (8.8 ppg) are all vital members of the Racers' ensemble cast.
Tennessee State has spoiled Murray State's party once already this season and it has been handed a golden opportunity to do so again here in the championship game. Covington has been the key for the Tigers this year, but with the Racers' great defense locking in on the league's top team, TSU will need to get contributions elsewhere as well, like it did in the Feb. 9 win when four players scored in double figures. Despite the hiccup against the Tigers last month, Murray State is clearly the better team and unless it begins to look ahead to the NCAA Tournament, it will hoist the championship trophy for the 15th time.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Murray State 78, Tennessee State 70
03/03 10:41:06 ET
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