USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah Canaan was held without a basket for almost 30 minutes against Austin Peay. But a late rush led the Racers past an upstart Austin Peay that is the past and future leader of the Ohio Valley Conference.
The plan worked for 30 minutes. Austin Peay had marginalized preseason All-American Isaiah Canaan and had him held to just two points through almost 30 minutes.
But they couldn't keep a good man down. Freshman Chris Horton was called for his fourth foul, taking away the best interior defender for the Governors, and that was when Canaan came alive.
Through the final quarter of the game, and into overtime, Canaan scored 17 points. And while Austin Peay hung with the Racers as best they could by firing from long range, the legs eventually gave out.
That is why Canaan was considered one of the top five players in the country before the season began. This is what he is able to do during basketball games. It wasn't like he wasn't contributing in other ways when the shots weren't falling, but no one comes to watch Canaan pass the basketball, or set picks, or rebound.
They come to watch him shoot, and expect him to make, you know, maybe 45 percent of them.
Imagine for a moment that he is on for the entire game instead of just the final 15 minutes. A 6-for-18 afternoon becomes a 12-for-18 afternoon, perhaps with a few of the threes finding the bottom of the net instead of clanging away. This game would have been out of hand had Canaan just managed that.
As it was, he still ended as the leading scorer for the Racers. He still tied for the team lead in rebounds. And he had three assists, three steals and a block in the process.
A disappointing afternoon? Maybe by the high standards that he keeps for himself. But the result was a badly needed win for Murray State.
Here is a team that was supposed to stay in the hunt for the Ohio Valley title, and they are. They are just not doing it in the way that they blitzed teams last season. Again, to be expected given the personnel changes.
But this Murray State team isn't close to the one that was the favorite upset pick during last season's tournament. They began the game far too sluggish on the floor, letting Austin Peay get to a 10-point lead early. They let a freshman that was giving up 30 pounds to Racer big man Ed Daniel dominate the inside and crash the board far too easily.
This is a Murray State team, that if it can get past the rest of the contenders in the conference is going to struggle mightily come the NCAA Tournament.
And next season? We saw a glimpse of what next season will be for the Racers as Canaan clanked shot after shot during the first half. The Racers will be able to compete, but this isn't the dominant team that everyone will expect.
I want to believe this didn't affect how people will look at Canaan come time for the NBA Draft. But this game was too much of a smaller guard, albeit one that can bang with the best of them, having trouble with bigger players -- and not necessarily the top talent that he is used to banging with.
Rivalry game aside, Canaan should not be bothered by teams, or players like this.
And maybe that should be the coda on this game. Canaan is good. Murray State is good. But right now, at least based on this performance, neither one is great. The Racer leader has the ability to take over games when it matters, but also to disappear from the game when the shot isn't working.
But you can't leave yet. That would be ignoring how much Horton meant to the Governors when he was on the floor. When he adds the 20 pounds to be able to bang with the big men inside, he is going to be a monster. As it was, he finished with 11 points on 5 of 9 shooting, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
That is Damian Eargle-lite, and Horton at least has some weight on the slim, trim Youngstown State player. Had he not fouled out prior to overtime, the Governors may have had enough to pull off the upset.
Together with the rest of the young Austin Peay lineup, this could be a team that is destined to get back to the top of the OVC heap, and soon. Especially so if they can continue to shoot 36 percent from three. They aren't far away.
Today belonged to Murray State in the end, but tomorrow belongs to Austin Peay.