Nashville, TN – Kerron Johnson hit a step-back jumper from the left side of the key with 1.2 seconds remaining in overtime, as the Belmont Bruins punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 70-68 decision over the Murray State Racers for the Ohio Valley Conference title.
The Bruins became the third team on Saturday to enter "The Big Dance" as they joined Harvard (Ivy League) and Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun). Johnson finished with 12 points and six assists.
"The overtime final possession was a play we'd set up," Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. "We talked about today in practice as being a play that we would run. They just wouldn't let us complete a pass to initiate the play. We just went to plan whatever it was, which is what we'd done all night long, which is go set a ball screen for Kerron."
J.J. Mann scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Bruins (26-6), who advanced to the postseason for the third straight season, after winning the Atlantic Sun Conference title the each of the last two years. Trevor Noack and Ian Clark each donated 14 and 11 points, respectively, in the victory.
Stacy Wilson led Murray State with 23 points and made 5-of-7 from 3-point range for the Racers (21-10), who made an appearance in the OVC title game for the third time in the last four years.
Isaiah Canaan, who finished with 22 points, 10 assists and nine boards, also had six turnovers, the last one of which proved to be costly. Canaan got the ball around half-court with the game tied, but lost control and dribbled it off his leg for a backcourt violation. That's partly the reason Johnson and Belmont got the ball back before time expired.
"It was a mistake on my part. I was dribbling it like regular, but I guess my foot was in the way and it rolled off my foot," Canaan said.
Noack converted 1-of-2 from the free throw line to tie the game with 1:19 left in OT, but on the next possession, Wilson grabbed a missed 3-pointer to drive across the lane for a wide open floater and 68-66 lead with 1:02 remaining.
Johnson then calmly made two free throws to knot things up again, this time at 68-68 with 46 seconds remaining.
Canaan, the OVC Co-Player of the Year with Clark, did have a costly mistake, but he also scored four of the team's six overtime points. Two free throws with 2:35 left in overtime put Murray State ahead 66-65.
Perhaps an even bigger play occurred in regulation, as Ed Daniel went to the line with 20 seconds left and Murray State up two points. He missed both shots which ultimately kept Belmont alive.
The Bruins quickly pushed the ball up and Johnson hit a fade away jumper just inside the free throw line -- eerily similar to his game-winner -- to tie things up at 62-62.
There was plenty of confusion, and boos from the fans for that matter, after the game-tying basket, as the officials took three-plus minutes to determine how much time should be left on the clock.
With 6.2 seconds remaining, Murray State inbounded the ball and drove the length of the court, but Latreze Mushatt missed a deep 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to end regulation.
"Two things happened. First the clock did not stop properly when the ball cleared the net," said Curtis Shaw, the OVC coordinator for men's basketball officiating. "The refs reviewed the play to fix that problem. They also realized it did not start properly when it was inbounded. The clock should have stopped at 9.6 seconds. The officials took a stop watch and recorded the elapsed time from when the clock should have stopped to when the ball was thrown inbounds and touched. That took 3.4 seconds. So they subtracted 9.6 and 3.4 seconds and got 6.2 seconds which they put on the clock."
Wilson's trey with just over three minutes to play increased Murray State's lead to 58-51. Mann, though, brought the Bruins back within four points with two minutes to play with a triple of his own.
Seconds later, Daniel looked to put an exclamation point on the contest he slammed home a monstrous fast break dunk to put Murray ahead 60-54.
Belmont opened up the second half with four straight points, but Murray State answered with a 17-2 flurry to take a 38-28 advantage just 4 1/2 minutes in.
Fittingly, Belmont got right back in it with 13 unanswered points to take a 41-38 edge as Clark nailed a right wing triple around the midway point of the half.
Belmont scored nine straight to close the first half as Mann capped off the spurt with the final five points. The Bruins led at the break, 22-21.
Murray State took the first meeting this season, 79-74, on Feb. 7 ... It was Belmont's sixth conference tournament championship game appearance, all of which have occurred since 2006. The Bruins won the previous five tournament finals in the Atlantic Sun Conference (2006, 07, 08, 11, 12) ... Murray State had 25 turnovers ... It was the first loss for the Racers in the OVC title game since 2000 ... Belmont, a former NAIA school, picked up the program's 1,000th victory.