Written in 2011...
Over the years the Great Alaska Shootout has hosted some of the top teams in college basketball. Among the 34 champions you will find names like North Carolina (1980, 1985, 1997), Louisville (1982), Kentucky (1979, 1996), Duke (1995), and North Carolina State (1978, 1983). And now Murray State has joined that list by defeating Southern Mississippi 90-81 in double-overtime on Saturday night to win this year's championship.
“When you get up there and walk into the arena you see banners from all the elite college basketball programs,” head coach Steve Prohm noted. “That was a great motivation for our kids to be able to hang a Murray State banner up there.
“I was really pleased with our effort and our resiliency. We were able to execute the game plan in the first half and get big leads. But we have to do a better job of maintaining those leads.”
The Racers played the host team, Alaska Anchorage in the opening round and came away with a 64-62 victory. Isaiah Canaan led four players in double figures with 19 points. Donte Poole and Ivan Aska each had 13 while Stacy Wilson had 12.
MSU built an early lead but fatigue from the long trip seemed to set in after that.
“Fairly early in the game we were shooting free throws and I saw Jewaun Long bent over and he's our toughest player,” Prohm noted. “Right then I knew we hadn't recovered from the trip. I thought fatigue was a big factor.
“But I thought we got really lackadaisical in the last few minutes of the game. And that made the final score closer than it should have been.”
Murray State drew a 5-1 San Francisco team in the second round. The Dons were big and athletic. They made it hard for the Racers to score in the paint and late in the game they employed a full court press that produced a steal and a quick basket.
With just over two minutes to play MSU was clinging to a 58-55 lead. USF's defense was stifling and Ivan Aska had to take 30-footer to avoid a shot clock violation.
“He shoots shots like that joking around all the time,” Prohm said. “So I was hoping it would pay off.”
It did as Aska's shot hit the front of the rim and dropped in. MSU went on to win 70-67. Poole led the way with 22 points, Canaan had 21, Long had 12, and Aska had 10.
“San Francisco is a very good basketball team,” Prohm said. “They're picked near the top of the West Coast Conference. But we played well defensively. Our pressure and our toughness were major factors. We were up by 14 and they changed how they played. They started driving to the basket and we had a hard time stopping them. We have to get better at containing penetration.”
The final against Southern Mississippi took two overtimes before it was over but the Racers came out on top with a 90-81 victory.
“I told our guys before the game that they were a very good Conference-USA team,” Prohm said. “I told them they would be going up against a physical, tough minded team, a mirror image of themselves. I was just proud of our guys for the way they continued to fight. Our kids have had great focus whether they've been ahead or behind.”
Murray State led until early in the first overtime period when they fell behind 72-69. But they tied it at 72 to send it in to a second overtime period which they then dominated.”
Canaan led the way with 36 points. Wilson had 13, Poole had 12, and Long had 10.ed Daniel had eight points, nine rebounds, and three blocked shots. And the Racers were champions once again.
“It was a great experience,” Long said. “You see banners from all these great teams in the rafters here. We're just appreciative to be a part of it. All the conditioning we've done definitely paid off.”
“Whether we ever come back or not we'll know we have a banner hanging up there and that's huge,” Wilson agreed. “I've been keeping my confidence up. I got some open looks, my teammates got me the ball and I knocked down some big shots. I want to thank my teammates for finding me.”
Poole was named to the all-tournament team along with Canaan who was tabbed as Most Valuable Player.
“I've never been in a game that wild,” Canaan said of the final against USM. “I'm just glad we got the win. We came too far and it was too cold to leave without a championship. I told Stacy to be ready and I told Ed we were going to need him. And they did their part.
“You always need a guy like Jewuan Long on your team too. He doesn't care how many points he scores he just wants to win. He'll lay his body on the line and do whatever it takes to win. But I want to congratulate all my teammates for coming through in pressure situations.
“Knowing all the great players who have played in this tournament it was an honor to be named MVP.”