Game #8-110: Murray State Racers vs. Alaska Anchorage November 23, 2011 10:30 pm
"I'll be so pissed if we lose." Those were the words of a young female photographer working for the Northern Light, the University of Alaska-Anchorage's student newspaper. UAA, a Division II school, hosts the Great Alaska Shootout, one of the longest running exempt tournaments in the country. This young lady, raised in Alaska, is unfamiliar with The Red Line. Instead, she's stuck behind a different line, a line drawn by the NCAA, the one that divides the 345 college basketball programs in Division I from the some 290 Division II basketball programs.
The Seawolves of UAA took on Murray State in the opener for the men's bracket of The Shootout and despite being a Division II program the hosts were not intimidated and hung tough with Murray State the entire game. The Racers, who lost their head coach to a school above The Red Line (Texas A&M), jumped out to a 7-0 lead through the first media timeout and it looked like Murray State would do to the Seawolves what so many schools above The Red Line do to their opponents from below The Red Line.
Stacy Wilson would hit a superhoop for the Racers to put them up 17-9 midway through the first half but UAA would close the half on a 15-6 run to take a one point lead into the break giving the homestanding fans that glimmer of hope that so many of us from our side of the line have had when playing against a power conference team.
Murray State came out in the second half and built an eight point lead with just over 11 minutes left to play but the pesky Seawolves would not go away. UAA would go on a 9-2 run behind three superhoops (the great equalizer no matter what level of basketball you play) to cut the Racers' lead to one at 43-42 with 9:21 left to play. It was at that point when the young photographer sitting next to me on the baseline turned toward me uttered those seven words--"I'll be so pissed if we lose."
Being an alumnus of a below-the-red-line school (New Mexico State), I wanted to tell her, "There's still way too much time left," but I resisted because I too have felt that same way too many times (most recently in 2010 at the Aggies' NCAA Tournament's first round game against Michigan State in Spokane).
True to heartbreaking form, Murray State would respond to UAA's run, taking an 11-point lead with just over five minutes left to play. The Racers would maintain that 11-point lead with 1:41 left to play but UAA would make one final push getting a layup to cut Murray State's lead to nine, then a steal, and another bucket, the lead down to seven. Then another steal, another bucket and the lead was down to five. A missed free throw from Murray and another bucket by the Seawlolves and the lead was down to three. Murray State would finally put an end to the underdogs' hopes hitting a pair of free throws to make the lead five with five seconds left. UAA hit a three at the buzzer to make the final margin two points.
Murray State had avoided an upset this night but you can't help but wonder if at some time this season there might be a young photographer from Murray State's student paper who utters the same phrase, "I'll be so pissed if we lose," as the Racers are chasing down some above-the-red-line team.
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