Thursday marked the first day of March and Saturday brought college basketball fans one step closer to the Madness that will soon ensue during the NCAA tournament. Murray State won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament final Saturday night over Belmont, 68-51, clinching the first automatic bid of 2018.
The win gives the Racers their 16th NCAA tournament berth in program history and their first since 2012, when they went 30-1 en route to a No. 6 seed. They won their first round game against Colorado State 58-41 before falling to No. 3 seed Marquette in the second round.
Murray State trailed 32-29 at halftime but played an inspired second half, outscoring Belmont 39-19 after halftime. Four Racers players scored in double figures, led by guard Jonathan Stark with 24 points. Stark was named the tournament's MVP.
Neither team shot the ball particularly well – both Murray State and Belmont made less than 40 percent of their field goal attempts – but the Racers took care of the ball (just five turnovers) and were efficient at the foul line (9-for-11).
How they got there
Murray State earned the No. 1 seed in the Ohio Valley tournament after winning the conference's regular season title with a 16-2 record, one game ahead of second-place Belmont. The Bruins won the only regular season meeting against the Racers, 79-72, at home in January.
The Racers defeated Jacksonville State, the No. 4 seed in the OVC tournament, 70-63 in the semifinals.