The silence that hung in the locker room said more than the postgame interviews ever could.
Murray State had just lost to No. 3 seed Marquette in a game where both teams went toe-to-toe with the other, matching point-for-point and almost play-for-play the entire 40 minutes when the locker room held the type of sadness that could only come after a loss and for just the second time all season for the Racers.
“If you’re a shooter (missing shots that normally fall), that’s very frustrating in a game that really matters the most,” All-American junior guard Isaiah Canaan said in the locker room. “You just want to come through for your team and you can’t. You really have no control over that – you expect to make every shot and things just didn’t happen that way.”
Canaan, who is up for multiple post-season awards including the Cousy, Wooden, Naismith, Robertson and Henson Awards, tried to keep the season in perspective as he recalled everything he learned from the team.
“(The seniors taught me to) just stay on course regardless of who is getting the recognition and who is not,” Canaan said. “They stayed there pushing me everyday in practice and they deserve a lot of credit for everything I have accomplished because without (the seniors) and everybody else in this locker room I wouldn’t have been the player I was all season.”
‘Have been.’ ‘Was.’ ‘Have accomplished.’ All past tense phrases that signal the end of a season, the end of a season to remember.
“There’s a lot of teams that would have loved to do the things we did all season long and the things that we did is not easy to do,” Canaan said. “Going undefeated on the road for the majority of the season until today. Being the last undefeated team in the nation and being 31-2 is very hard to come by and I’m sure there are a lot of teams in the country that would love to be in a position that we were.”
Junior forward Stacy Wilson, with eyes red and swollen from crying, sat in front of his locker trying to process what happened minutes earlier on the court.
“You feel disappointed, this wasn’t our goal,” Wilson said. “We wanted to keep going but you know, things happen. You just have
to recuperate and come back for next year. It’s sad, but I told (the seniors) to keep their heads up, those three guys will be successful. They’re very tough guys and they’ll be successful in everything they do.”
Graduating in May, the seniors will leave Murray State after a historic season and will hold the title of winningest class in program history, going 104-27 in their four-year careers as Racers.
“In a way it hurts but in a way I’m happy because I can’t wait until next year to see these guys play because they’re like family, they’re like my brothers,” senior forward Ivan Aska said, his eyes still wet from crying. “When I leave Murray State I’m never going to stop working hard, I’m going to keep doing my best. I’m going to keep on playing ball, it’s something that I love doing, so I’m going to keep on working and never give up.”
With resolve in his voice and determined to maintain composure, Aska tried to put into words what was running through his mind and heart.
“Man, I’m feeling like I’ve got a game next week,” Aska said as his voice cracked with emotion. “It’s hit me but it hasn’t really hit me yet, just to know I ain’t playing college ball anymore, but it’s a new chapter for me.”
Despite the obvious pain every Racer felt, the seniors – again assuming their leadership positions – led the team in as much a positive direction as they could muster considering the circumstances.
“The season is over but it don’t stop,” Long said in the locker room after the game. “They have a great group of guys coming back and a great recruiting class as well. They can have an even better year next year and make it even farther than we did this year in the tournament. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what they do next year.”
As soon as the team made it to the locker room after the game’s heartbreaking finish, Head Coach Steve Prohm – who was honored as Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year as well as Basketball Times Coach of the Year – immediately addressed his team, thanking them for their character and the way they represented the program.
“It was a successful season in a lot of areas and it was successful because these three seniors led our program in a first class and if I can always coach a senior class like that then we’re always going to be successful,” Prohm said in a postgame interview. “These guys are first class and I think Murray is on to that, I just think this may continue to solidify our program in a lot more people’s eyes. I heard from so many people in my personal life but even in the coaching rings, I think people have a lot of respect for how we play.”
Aska, whose voice still carried a stunned tone of disbelief, lit up slightly when talking about future possibilities.
“Coach Prohm told us to keep on working and don’t give up, just have our wall protected, especially us seniors,” Aska said. “We’ve just got to stay on our wall and I’ve got a new chapter, Donte’s got a new chapter and Jewuan. I told something to each of my teammates – I told them just to keep working hard.”
Four years ago, when senior guard Donte Poole put on the blue and gold uniform for the first time, he never expected a season like this one.
“My freshman year my thoughts were that I would just be a sideline guy,” Poole, OVC Tournament MVP, said. “I never really pictured this happening to me, never pictured being in this situation so for it to happen is just a great feeling. You feel blessed, you feel great to be on a team like this and grow relationships and brotherhood with these guys and this coaching staff. You never want those things to end. Unfortunately the season had to end but the bond and the relationships that we share is for a lifetime.”
Prohm, in his sixth year with the Racers and first as head coach, couldn’t articulate the historic season his team had.
“I don’t know how to put it into words I just know we impacted a lot of people, our University and western Kentucky,” Prohm said. “It’s an amazing ride to go 31-2 and they broke a slew of records along the way. It was an amazing run, we’re just sick it ends.”
Prohm, gaining confidence with each word, retained a positive outlook on the future of Murray State basketball.
Said Prohm: “If we continue to recruit Donte Poole, Ivan Aska and Jewuan Long then we’re going to get to the Sweet 16 and we’re going to get to the Elite 8 and we’re going to continue to be one of the elite programs in the country.”