Wednesday night's NIT Quarterfinal match up between Old Dominion and Murray State was like a drug for both mid-major fans and fans of solid point guard play. Not only did the game feature two classic mid-major programs looking to validate their seasons, but two of the nation's best point guards in the Racers' Cameron Payne against the Monarchs Trey Freeman.
Both teams were just a game away from Madison Square Garden and a semifinal date with the Stanford Cardinal. Getting to the world's most famous arena would likely mean validation for two of the most controversial NCAA Tournament bubble teams. Old Dominion was a team that went 11-1 in out-of-conference play beating VCU, Richmond, Georgia State, and LSU but lacked the quality opponents in Conference USA play to set them over the top. Then there was Murray State, a story we're all too familiar with after the Racers went 17-1 in Ohio Valley Conference play only to lose at the buzzer to Belmont in the conference championship.
In what was a great game where Murray State was on the edge of an epic comeback and a potential overtime tilt, Trey Freeman happened...
The circus shot you just saw sent the Monarchs over the Racers 72-69. Freeman finished the game with 25 points and 4 assists in an almost folklore-like performance after severely turning his ankle this past weekend against Illinois State. Freeman, a Campbell transfer, carried Jeff Jones' Monarch but also got some solid help from senior Jonathan Arledge (12 pts) and Jordan Baker (11 pts).
Tonight's game was probably one of the best environments that the Ted Constant Center has seen since the Monarchs last went to the NIT Semifinals in 2006. The decision of the NCAA powers that be to send the "First Four Out" to the #1 seed line has really paid dividends this year in the NIT with some very exciting environments at the likes of ODU, Richmond, and Temple. It's the type of college environments that fans want to see this time of year.
ODU's 2015 story isn't over yet and could result in a rather impressive banner for Jeff Jones. Meanwhile Murray State fans have to have mixed emotions about the past season after falling short in the NIT behind a year with so much promise. We'll never know what kind of noise the Racers could've made in the NCAA Tournament but one thing is for sure, Cameron Payne's career is far from over.