Belmont tops Murray St. for NCAA bid
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
The senior guard hit the tying shot to force overtime then a 10-foot pull-up jumper with 1.2 seconds left in the extra period as Belmont capped its first season in the Ohio Valley Conference by beating league power Murray State 70-68 for the tournament championship.
"It was a very hard decision," Johnson said. "I just made the best decision I could at that time for me. It was Belmont, and I'm happy I made that choice."
The Bruins (26-6) had won five tournament championships in the Atlantic Sun, and they picked up right where they left off, earning their sixth NCAA tournament berth in eight seasons. The former NAIA program also notched its 1,000th victory in a thriller.
Belmont coach Rick Byrd, who has coached more than 1,000 games in his career, said he could only recall a couple going down to the final shot.
"The shots he made and the plays he made were incredible," Byrd said of Johnson.
Now the Bruins can wait to learn their seed and opponent in the NCAA tournament, and this win means a bit more.
"We had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder," Johnson said after getting four stitches in his chin. "We really wanted to win and prove we can come to quote, unquote a bigger conference and do well, play well and perform well."
Murray State (21-10) hadn't lost in this final since 2000, and the Racers had a chance at their third championship in four years and 16th overall. A win also would have been their 1,500th.
The Bruins got the ball for Johnson's shot when Isaiah Canaan lost it off his foot for a back-court violation.
"It was a mistake on my part," said Canaan, a preseason All-American. "I was dribbling like regular. I guess my foot was in the way, and it went off my foot."
The Racers couldn't get a shot off before the buzzer, and coach Steve Prohm took the blame for not finishing off the game in regulation after Johnson tied it up with 9.1 seconds left.
"We just weren't able to close the game," Prohm said. "That was the bottom line. Minute to go, we had everything in our favor. I really have to go back and look at the last minute. You don't want to point fingers. I mean it was a physical game. Just credit to Belmont for figuring out a way to get it to the ... overtime."
Officials reviewed the sequence and changed the clock to 6.2 seconds. The Racers also got the ball on the end line under the Belmont basket.
Curtis Shaw, OVC coordinator of men's basketball officials, said in a statement that the clock did not stop after the ball cleared the net on Johnson's shot. He said the clock should have stopped at 9.6 seconds, so officials used a stop watch to check the time between the Racers' inbounds pass and when the ball was touched. Shaw said that took 3.4 seconds.
Prohm said he had a play set up for the sideline.
"I didn't listen correctly. I'll just take the blame on that," Prohm said.
Canaan finished with 22 points for Murray State, and Stacy Wilson added 23, including 5 of 7 shooting from 3-point range.
Murray State led 58-51 with 3:10 left on a 3-pointer by Wilson from the right corner that just beat the shot clock. But they only got one more bucket the rest of regulation on a dunk by Ed Daniel, and the Racers went 2 for 6 at the free-throw line in the final 2:07.
The Bruins came back with an 11-4 run started by a 3-pointer by Mann. Clark hit a running jumper to pull the Bruins within 62-60, and they then fouled Daniel who missed both of his free throws with 20 seconds left, and Johnson hit his tying jumper Latreze Mushatt had a chance to win it for the Racers, but his jumper was left of the rim at the buzzer.
In overtime, the Racers went up 66-64 on a pair of free throws by Canaan with 2:35 left. Wilson also rebounded a missed 3 by Canaan and hit a jumper for a 68-66 lead with 1:01 left.
But Johnson, who had to leave the game when fouled with 4:13 left after cutting his chin on the floor, hit two free throws that tied it up at 68 with 46.8 seconds to go.
"Tonight they were kind of face-guarding a lot of our guys not letting us get off 3-point shots," Clark said. "That opened up the lane for him ... Going one on one with a big guy? I'm taking Kerron and those odds."
The Racers had the ball and plenty of time to take the go-ahead shot except Canaan lost the ball over the mid-court line with 25.1 seconds remaining. Belmont took a timeout then Johnson ignored teammates as he watched the shot clock before driving toward the lane only to pull up and hit his jumper over Daniel.
Officials reviewed the play and put 0.5 seconds back on the clock, giving Murray State 1.2 seconds to try to tie it up. With fans on their feet, Daniel couldn't reach the ball near the bucket with two Bruins guarding him just before the buzzer sounded.
The Racers outshot Belmont 53.3 percent (24 of 45) to 49.1 percent (28 of 57) and outrebounded the Bruins 33-23.
But the Racers also turned it over 26 times, and Belmont turned that into a 27-16 scoring edge.