Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Racers' run was something to remember

On March 17th the buzzer rang out in the Yum! Center in Louisville and the Racer's surreal run had come to an end. The scoreboard showed 62-53 in favor of the Golden Eagles of Marquette. In the waning moments of that game I sunk down into the couch and I lost it emotionally. Sure, most students at Murray State are fans and support the basketball team, after all we are in Kentucky and basketball is king here. But this one strung me, more so than I thought it was going to. I was at the final game played in Racer Arena as well as the first one played in the CFSB Center (formerly the Regional Special Event Center). I've grown up watching Racer basketball and this season was finally Murray State's time to shine. Seeing every game mentioned on ESPN, the amount of media in Murray, and an appearance by Dick Vitale was nothing short of surreal. The Racers had been recognized, and they were the feel good story of the year in college basketball.

The Racers began the season by winning the first 23 games, climbing up the national polls. There were the fair share of critics, saying this team's record was simply a byproduct of an easy schedule. Let's all remember that even mighty UK went several weeks without playing a ranked opponent. Of course, the OVC is not as strong as the SEC, but Murray State had a huge target on their backs every single night. Rookie coach Steve Prohm led this group of players through tough games, because every team that tipped off against MSU wanted to be the one that stopped the run. But they just kept winning. In all my years of watching and cheering on the Racers, I had never seen a group of players that 100% bought into the system. This team worked hard and were motivated, they saw their opportunity and they took it. The team was led by stand-out PG Isaiah Caanan, who's game at rival Austin Peay was spectacular. He absolutely took the game over and made it clear that APSU would not cash in on an upset bid.

After Syracuse fell to Notre Dame, the Murray State Racers were the lone remaining unbeaten team in Division I college basketball. Though the flawless season did come to an end on  February 9th when Tennessee State defeated the Racers at home by a tally of 72-68. That would be the only defeat handed to Murray State during the regular season. In the Racers' rematch with the Tigers they stormed to an 18 point victory avenging the previous loss. Murray State finished the historic regular season as OVC Champions with a 28-1 record.

The Racers won their first OVC tournament game over Tennessee Tech, 78-58, setting up another rematch with the Tigers of Tennessee State. The championship game was a contest for the ages with Murray edging out the Tigers for the OVC Tournament Championship and an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.

Then came March Madness and the buzz surrounding the Racers continued to grow. The Racers were handed a 6 six and matched up against the Rams of Colorado State. I was lucky enough to be able to attend that game and the experience was breathtaking. To see my school and a team I grew up loving prevail in their opening game was easily one of my fondest sports memories. When Murray State faced Marquette with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line I was glued to the TV. The final buzzer rang and for only the second time all season, the Racers had fallen. But this time there was no rematch, no second chance, it was just over.

No one associated with this team has any reason to hang their heads. This is what Murray State basketball is capable of, and is what is expected year in and year out in the small western Kentucky town. The fans don't expect a perfect season, and they don't expect a NCAA title, but the Racers have risen to the top in the mid-major scene. It's been a long time coming as Murray State has dominated the OVC for well over a decade. Anyone who got a chance to be a part of this season should cherish those memories because for Murray State it was something special. But college basketball must realize that the Murray State Racers are here and they won't be returning to the rock that the national media had them under.

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