"Just being perfectly honest, I don't think that their team is as good as their team was two years ago that beat Vanderbilt [in the NCAA tournament] or as good as our team was last year that beat Louisville," Tyndall said. "But it's hard to even say that when they're ranked [12th] in the country and undefeated."
Isaiah Canaan scored 20 points and No. 12 Murray State beat Morehead State 66-60 on Wednesday night in its toughest Ohio Valley Conference challenge so far.
Murray State (19-0, 7-0) trailed by nine with just under 13 minutes to play before rallying behind Canaan and Donte Poole -- who added 15 points -- to remain one of two unbeaten teams in men's Division I basketball along with No. 1 Syracuse.
Drew Kelly scored 20 points for Morehead State (9-11, 3-4) but ran into foul trouble. The Eagles led 46-37 after a basket by Milton Chavis, but the Racers rallied, using a 10-0 run to take the lead against the defending OVC tournament champions.
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"I'm more disappointed, but we are encouraged that we held with them. They are the best team in our conference," Kelly said. "They're the tougher team tonight and they out-toughed us."
It was the first Top 25 opponent Morehead State had ever faced at Johnson Arena, which opened 31 years ago and the highest ranked team to come to Morehead since No. 9 Western Kentucky on Feb. 20, 1971. It also was shaping up to be a major upset before Canaan helped the Racers rally.
"I think that we played real good defense at first," Morehead State guard Lamont Austin said. "We just slacked off at the end."
Chavis gave Morehead State a seven-point lead with 12:59 left before the Eagles went cold and Murray State took advantage despite playing without leading rebounder Ivan Aska for the fifth straight game because of a broken hand.
Poole scored on a fast-break dunk after a turnover, hit three of four free throws and buried a 3-pointer in the left corner as part of a 10-0 run that made it 47-46 and gave the Racers their first lead since 2-0.
Khalil Owens fouled out with 8:15 left, taking the Eagles' biggest player at 250 pounds off the floor during the stretch, but Morehead State regained the lead 51-49 when Angelo Warner converted a four-point play after hitting a 3 and being fouled by Latreze Mushatt, who put his hands on his head in disbelief.
Zay Jackson's 3 put the Racers back up 54-53, but Mushatt fouled out and Chavis hit two free throws to give the Eagles a one-point advantage. Canaan answered with a 26-foot 3-pointer that gave Murray State a 57-55 lead with 3:44 left.
After the teams traded points, Poole hit a step-back jumper from 19 feet then made the first of two foul shots to give the Racers a 62-57 lead with 56 seconds to go. Austin drove to the basket and score to make it 62-59 with 39 seconds left, but the Eagles could get no closer as Poole and Canaan hit the final four free throws to seal it.
These two teams have alternating representing the Ohio Valley Conference in the NCAA tournament the last three years, and the Eagles made a strong statement that they won't relinquish the conference title quietly despite losing at home to Murray State for the first time in four years.
Murray State won the regular season title in the OVC last year, but never made it to the OVC finals. Instead, Morehead State won the tournament behind Kenneth Faried and went on to knock out Louisville in the NCAA tournament before falling in the second round to Richmond. Faried was picked in the first round of the NBA Draft by Denver this past summer.
After Canaan's clutch game, Eagles coach Donnie Tyndall said he sees similarities between the guard and Faried.
"He's Murray State's point guard version of our Kenneth Faried a year ago. He's probably the best point guard, mid-major point guard in America like Kenneth was the best mid-major big guy in America," Tyndall said. "He's the guy who's going to have the ball in his hands. He's a very, very talented guy."