March 4, 2006
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tyler Holloway scored 11 of his 13 points in a key second half run to help Murray State clinch the Racers' 13th berth in the NCAA tournament by beating Samford 74-57 in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship Saturday.
The Racers (24-6), who have won this title two of the past three seasons, celebrated by linking together like a chorus line and dancing at mid-court.
Samford (20-11) was trying to earn its third NCAA berth in eight seasons by winning the OVC tournament only three seasons after joining the league. The Bulldogs' first two trips came as winners of the Trans America Athletic Conference.
But the Racers have dominated the OVC for decades, and not even the fifth-best 3-point shooting team in the nation was going to change that.
Trey Pearson led Murray State with 15 points, and all 10 Racers who played scored. Pearson Griffith added 11 and Justin Orr 10. Murray State outrebounded Samford 45-29 and outshot the Bulldogs 53.1 percent to 33.3 percent, holding them to 12-of-39 from beyond the arc.
Murray State broke open a tight game by opening the second half with a 10-2 run, and Griffith's layup in the opening seconds put the Racers ahead to stay.
J. Robert Merritt, the OVC player of the year, got the Bulldogs going by hitting his first bucket in nearly 16 minutes, naturally a 3-pointer. Joe Ross Merritt added a 3, then J. Robert hit another to pull Samford within 46-44.
That was as close as the Bulldogs would get as Holloway, a freshman guard from Alabama, took over. He hit a 3 from the right corner, scored on a drive and hit two more 3s. Griffith capped the run with a layup and a 62-48 lead with 4:35 to go.
Samford never got closer than eight after that.
J. Robert Merritt finished with 26 points for Samford, and Travis Peterson had 15. Merritt, the nation's fourth-best 3-point shooter hitting 48.4 percent set the OVC single season record with 120 3s, and he tied the league record with eight 3s in the game.
But he went scoreless for a 16-minute stretch that started midway through the first half. He had another drought in the second half with only a pair of free throws in an eight-minute stretch.
Samford led 33-32 at halftime after a tight first half in which the teams swapped the lead six times with six ties. Murray State outshot and outrebounded the Bulldogs but couldn't lead by more than five.