24-7, 15-5 Conf

MVP Guffey leads Murray State to OVC tournament title

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Murray State Racers are heading to the NCAA tournament. No, not the men. This time, it's the women making history.

Amber Guffey scored 27 points and Ashley Hayes added 17 to lead Murray State to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title and its first NCAA berth with a 69-58 victory over Eastern Illinois on Saturday.

"Oh, it's great," Guffey said. "That's what we all worked on from the beginning of the season. That was our goal, and it's great to achieve."

The Murray State men are used to championships and NCAA berths. The men's team has won 13 OVC tournament titles and made 13 NCAA tournament appearances. The women? Well, their only championship had been the 1929 Mississippi Valley Conference tournament title in Murray State's first season of women's basketball.

They were invited to the 1932 AAU national tournament but could not go. That won't be a problem now.

Coach Jody Adams inherited some experience in her first season with the Racers. She had four starters back from a team that went 21-10 last year, reached the OVC tournament championship game where they lost 62-60 to Southeast Missouri and finished the season with a first-round loss in the WNIT.

Hayes said last year's OVC title loss was strong motivation.

"Before Jody even got here, we were practicing. We didn't have a coach, and we were still working. We wanted to get back to this position because we knew we could win it, we could go all the way if we worked hard," Hayes said.

Guffey scored 12 points in the first half in helping the Racers (24-7) take a 31-21 halftime lead. She earned tournament MVP honors. Alaina Lee added 15 points for Murray State's ninth straight victory in a season where the Racers set a school record for wins.

Rachel Galligan led the Panthers (19-13) with 23 points, going 15-for-16 on free throws.

Megan Edwards sank two free throws with 12:49 left to pull Eastern Illinois within 40-35.

But Lee hit two free throws with 11:29 remaining, and Murray State pulled away. The Racers sealed the win at the free throw line by going 28-for-38. Lee made 11 of 12 and Hayes, the OVC player of the year, hit 10 of 12. Eastern Illinois went 26-for-28 at the line.

Adams said she liked how her Racers handled themselves against a good team. Eastern Illinois coach Brady Sallee felt his Panthers could've been a bit smarter.

The Racers held Eastern Illinois to just 28.3 percent shooting (15-of-53) for the game, and the Panthers hit only six of 23 shots in the first half. Sallee credited the Racers' defense with helping his team struggle.

"You have to come in with a game plan in a very short time. This is a little bit of a different stage. It's new for us. ... The fact we were in the game and had a chance to win it, shooting the ball that poorly says a lot about what we do defensively," Sallee said.

Eastern Illinois did have a lead in the opening minutes before Angela Brown tied it at 9 with a layup, then Lee scored on a layup before Hayes hit a pair of jumpers to give Murray State the lead for good at 15-9 with 9:34 left in the first half.

The Panthers lost their first seven games this season but managed to rebound. They upset top-seeded Southeast Missouri to reach the title game for the first time since joining the league in 1997 and were trying to earn their first NCAA berth since 1988 when they were in the Gateway Conference.

They stuck around to watch Murray State accept the trophy.

"As hard as it was to do, it was good for us to watch," Galligan said. "Murray State has been here before. They played in this same game last year. That's where we're trying to take our program. ... This was new to all of us, not to use that as an excuse by any means. But to sit there and let it soak in and hurt as much as it did was good."