NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For Murray State, the time between NCAA tournament berths had been a dreadful drought lasting way too long. This is a program where wins, Ohio Valley Conference titles and NCAA trips simply go together.
Finally, the wait is over.
Isaiah Canaan came off the bench and scored 16 points, and Murray State earned its 14th trip to the NCAA tournament and first since 2006 by beating Morehead State 62-51 Saturday night for the Racers' 14th Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship.
"It is a relief now, and now we're really able to enjoy it," Murray State coach Billy Kennedy said of landing his first NCAA berth in his fourth season. "We had a great team ... For us to have won 30 games is special. It's definitely sinking in, and we're very thankful."
The Racers (30-4) set a school record for wins in a season, becoming the first OVC school to do that and the first Division I team to 30 wins this year. This title didn't come easily in a grudge match between the league's top two seeds, who split their season series.
"I thought we met their physicality the first 25, 30 minutes, and eventually the beating and the banging ... maybe just wore them down a tad as the game went on," Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall said.
Morehead State (23-10) came in as the defending tournament champion and with Kenneth Faried, the OVC's player and defensive player of the year. Faried had 10 points and 12 rebounds, and Demonte Harper scored a game-high 20.
But Murray State held Maze Stallworth scoreless -- well below his average of 12.8 points per game -- and the Eagles to their lowest point total of the season. Stallworth played only 27 minutes and Harper 25 due to foul trouble.
"If Demonte and Maze would've gotten to play the normal minutes they usually play, it probably would've been a different type of game. I don't know that we would've won, but the score would've been different," Tyndall said.
Call it nice revenge for a 70-65 loss at Morehead State on Feb. 25 that snapped a 17-game winning streak by the Racers.
"It definitely added a little bit more spice to this game, playing those guys," Murray State senior Tony Easley said.
"They match up with us, so it's always an exciting game. It's like a mini-rivalry. It definitely added a little bit more flavor to this game. We wanted our revenge. We felt like we didn't give them our best shot. We gave them our best shot and knocked them out tonight."
Morehead State was looking for only its fourth OVC title and a second straight NCAA berth, and the Eagles couldn't come up with enough offense even as they held Murray State's top scorer, B.J. Jenkins, to just eight points.
Murray State is a deep team with four Racers averaging in double figures and 10 playing at least 10 minutes. Kennedy went into this game letting all 10 have a chance. But Jenkins was just 2 of 8 from the floor, so Canaan, selected tournament MVP, provided the difference by hitting three 3-pointers.
"Coming to Murray State, I always knew we were going to be winners," Canaan said.
Kennedy said Canaan's performance just proves the depth of his team.
"And the unselfishness we have," the coach said.
This was a tight game with 12 ties and seven lead changes, and Faried gave Morehead State its last lead, 31-30, on a tip-in with 14:45 left. Tony Easley hit a free throw to tie it at 31 before Isacc Miles' 3-pointer put Murray State ahead to stay, 34-31 with 10:11 left.
Miles added two free throws, then Easley scored before slamming down a dunk to give the Racers some breathing room for the first time all night at 40-31. Jeffery McClain scored, then Canaan hit consecutive 3s before Jenkins scored his second basket of the game on a layup for Murray State's biggest lead at 50-38 with 3:47 to go.
Harper kept throwing up 3s for Morehead State, but it was too late in this game between Kentucky schools.
The teams started off sloppy, maybe a little too eager for this showdown. They combined for 12 turnovers through the first nine minutes and couldn't find the basket, either. Murray State hit just three of its first 11 from the floor, while Morehead State was just 2 of 7.
They went into halftime tied at 24 when Faried found Terrance Hill all alone in the right corner for a 3-pointer he threw up just before the buzzer. The officials ruled it good, and Hill posed in the corner with his right hand up in the air for a couple of moments just to make sure it counted.
But the most violent play came with 9:20 left, when Faried went up for a rebound and Miles got his shoulder under him, slamming the 6-foot-8 Faried onto the court with his right arm caught behind him. Replays of the foul on the video board had fans booing loudly, but Faried missed only 40 seconds of the game before returning.