Thomas's patient buzzer-beater gives Murray State its legacy win
The victory over Vanderbilt was Murray State's first NCAA tourney win since '88
Danero Thomas wasn't necessarily the No. 1 option on the game-winning play
The SEC has already lost two teams in the tourney: Vandy and Florida
SAN JOSE -- He wasn't going to get off the shot, was he?
Murray State's Danero Thomas dribbled on the floor like he had all the time in the world, like it hadn't been 22 years since the Racers won an NCAA game, 21 years since the Ohio Valley Conference had notched a win in the field of 64, like the Racers weren't on the brink of a major No. 13-over-No. 4-seed upset.
"Before we left the huddle, coach said we had enough time to put at least two dribbles on the floor," Thomas said.
So Thomas did as he was told, nonchalanting it like it was no big deal. And then he pulled up for a jumper, released the ball, the buzzer sounded, the ball swished in.
And Murray State had pulled the monumental upset.
"I saw that one going in," Thomas said with a smile, after he emerged from the dogpile on the floor at HP Pavilion.
Sure he did. Murray State isn't used to losing. The Racers came into the game having won 22 of their last 23 games. They were hot and everyone knew it -- including President Obama, who was one of many to pick Murray State as an upset special.
And if it hadn't been Thomas to take the game-winner, it might easily have been one of his teammates. The Racers have incredibly balanced scoring: Five players average 10 points per game and another -- Isacc Miles -- averages 9.5.
Coach Billy Kennedy had options. He called a timeout with 4.2 seconds left and drew up a play the team hadn't run before. And it wasn't necessarily for Thomas -- just for whomever the point guard Miles could find.
"I wanted him to put it on the floor, and he made a great play," Kennedy said.
Miles was motivated. In a back-and-forth game, in which Miles was the high scorer with 17 points, he had made a critical turnover in the final minute.
Murray State at one moment in the second half had an eight-point lead. But Vanderbilt kept coming back. Murray State was clinging to a one-point lead with 28 seconds left when Miles turned over the ball. Vanderbilt's Jermaine Beal used the possession to draw a foul, hit both his free throws, and Vanderbilt had a one-point lead with just seconds to play.
When Murray State's B.J. Jenkins missed a three-pointer it looked like the Racers' winning run was over. But the rebound went off Vanderbilt and the Racers got the ball back.
There was still a chance to change hoops history. The last time Murray State had won a NCAA game was in 1988 when the Racers beat Jim Valvano's North Carolina State team. Though Morehead State won the play-in game last year -- and then bowed out to top seed Louisville -- it had been 19 years since an Ohio Valley team (Middle Tennessee, no longer in the conference) had won a tournament game.
Vanderbilt was a No. 4 seed for the second time in school history. That was not a good omen: The Commodores were a No. 4 seed in 2008 when they lost in the first round in 2008 to Siena. And unlike their neighbors (Murray, Ky. is just 120 miles away from Nashville), the Commodores were not riding a hot streak: Vandy had lost five of its last 13 games, including the SEC semifinals.
"I think that things that plagued our team all season long showed up today," said coach Kevin Stallings. "We got them to take a terrible shot when they came down the first time. If we secure that loose ball, then the game is over or at least close to it."
But it wasn't over. With 4.2 seconds to play, Kennedy drew up his brand new play and made sure to tell his team to put the ball on the floor not once, but twice.
Jeffery McClain -- in the game because Tony Easley had fouled out -- inbounded the ball because Kennedy wanted a big guy who could see the court.
McClain got the ball to Miles. Miles dribbled it and swung it around to Thomas.
Who dribbled it, pulled back for the jumper, and changed the history of Murray State with one motion. He got the shot off.
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