Southern Miss was the only above-the-red-line school in the Great Alaska Shootout field and through two games, they had dodged the proverbial bullet and in doing so, made their way to the championship game. Murray State was all that stood in the way of Southern Miss adding another above-the-red-line school's banner hanging in the Sullivan Arena.
The Great Alaska Shootout is college basketball's longest running in-season tournament. It is the granddaddy of exempt tournaments, except now, The Shootout has been eschewed in favor of warmer climates, shorter trips and the all-important bigger guarantee checks.
The Shootout has an illustrious history. Of the 69 NCAA schools that have won the men's basketball title, just six, Wisconsin, Holy Cross, CCNY, La Salle, Loyola (Ill) and Texas-El Paso (then Texas Western) have not appeared in the shootout. The list of Shootout champions, well let's just say it reads like a who's who of college basketball royalty. Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisville, Arizona, Michigan State, UCLA, Duke, Kansas and there are others as well. But with the aforementioned factors, the field has featured more "mid-majors", the schools below the red line.
The current standard-bearer for mid-majors, Butler, won the Shootout title in 2007, one of just five mid-majors to win the title since the tournament's inception in 1978. So for Murray State, it was a chance to not only notch a Red Line Upset, but to also hang a banner in the Sullivan Arena rafters amongst the big boys.
The Racers came and out just as their name would suggest, they raced to a nine-point lead. The Racers were doing everything the formula for RLU's prescribed, they were hitting shots (15-of-25), they were hitting threes (4-of-7), they were hitting free throws (5-of-6) and they were hitting the boards. It all added up to a 12-point halftime lead of 39-27.
The second half started with a Murray State bucket to push the lead to 14 and the game looked well in hand. But then Southern Miss started to hit shots. Three straight #superhoop baskets and a regular two-pointer cut the Racers' lead to just six. A couple of free throws, a couple of layups by the Eagles and the game was suddenly tied at 43.
The Racers shook off the Eagles' run and quickly pushed the lead back out to nine points but again Southern Miss would go on a run and tie the game, this time at 57-all. There were just six minutes left in regulation but just as they had done before, Murray State shook off the Eagles run and pushed the lead out to seven points with four minutes left to play. The Eagles were bound and determined to steal the game from the Racers and went on an 11-4 run to tie the game at 69 with 47 seconds left. Murray State had the ball but Ivan Aska missed a jumper with 27 seconds left. USM grabbed the rebound and held for the last shot.
Angelo Johnson took the shot for USM but it wouldn't fall. The buzzer sounded and the game was headed to overtime.
In five minutes of frantic play, the two teams combined for just six points, a #superhoop for each. This time it was Murray State's chance to win it on the final possession but they too would come up short sending the game to a second overtime, much to the delight of the Alaskan crowd.
It was in the second overtime when Murray State seized control. The Racers would get a layup just 26 seconds in, then a #superhoop, then another #superhoop and the lead was eight. Southern Miss would never get closer than five and Murray State salted the game away at the free throw line in the final minute to forge a nine point victory.
Celebration ensued as the third time was the charm for the Red Line Upset.
MURRAY STATE 90, SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI 81 11/26/2011
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI 4-2 (0-0) -- A. Johnson 10-21 6-7 29; L. Page 5-13 4-4 16; J. Mills 4-8 4-5 12; T. Pelham 1-5 0-0 2; M. Bolden 1-3 0-0 3; R. McGill 1-6 5-6 7; N. Watson 3-10 5-5 12; C. Jenkins 0-1 0-0 0; A. Phillips 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-67 24-27 81. MURRAY STATE 7-0 (0-0) -- I. Canaan 11-22 8-8 36; J. Long 4-8 2-4 10; D. Poole 4-8 2-2 12; E. Daniel 2-4 4-7 8; I. Aska 3-9 0-1 6; B. Garrett 1-1 1-1 3; S. Wilson 5-9 1-2 13; L. Mushatt 1-1 0-0 2; Z. Jackson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-62 18-25 90.
Three-point goals: USM 7-22 (A. Johnson 3-5; R. McGill 0-2; M. Bolden 1-1; N. Watson 1-4; L. Page 2-10), MURR 10-21 (D. Poole 2-5; J. Long 0-1; I. Canaan 6-11; S. Wilson 2-4); Rebounds: USM 31 (J. Mills 8), MURR 39 (E. Daniel 9); Assists: USM 6 (A. Johnson 3), MURR 15 (J. Long 5); Total Fouls -- USM 21, MURR 21; Fouled Out: USM-None; MURR-D. Poole.