Call it revenge for Murray State's lone loss this season. The Racers prefer to call it a great road win and postseason tuneup.
Isaiah Canaan scored 16 of his 24 points in the first half, and Murray State (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 14 AP) routed Tennessee State 80-62 on Thursday night.
"We just wanted to come out and get a great win on the road," Canaan said. "If a lot of other people look at it as a statement game, we're fine with that. We're just focusing on coming in and trying to get a great road win against a great team."
The Racers (27-1, 14-1 Ohio Valley Conference) blew a 13-point lead in losing 72-68 on Feb. 9. They used a 14-0 run over the final 2:31 of the first half Thursday with four Racers each hitting a 3-pointer to blow open a tight game.
"We just wanted to come out and kind of make a little push to take us into halftime," Murray State guard Donte Poole said. "It just so happened we made a couple 3s that gave us a little momentum going into the half."
Murray State shot 62.5 percent from the field in the first half and finished by matching its season-high with 12 3-pointers. Poole added 16 points and Zay Jackson had 11.
"To shoot 12 for 22 and Latreze (Mushatt) made some timely 3s," Murray State coach Steve Prohm said. "He doesn't shoot a ton of them, but he hit some timely 3s, some rhythm 3s. And Isaiah and Donte, they were terrific tonight."
Tennessee State (19-11, 11-5) had a nine-game winning streak snapped and missed its chance to sweep Murray State for the first time since 1993, when the Tigers reached the NCAA tournament. This also marked the Tigers' final game of the regular season, and they won't play again until the OVC tournament semifinals on March 2 as the league's No. 2 seed.
Tigers coach John Cooper credited Murray State with beating his team.
"They were faster than us in transition tonight. They seemed to have more energy," Cooper said. "We had breakdowns in transition and of course the last 3-minute stretch of the first half ... you sort of let the cow out of the barn."
Murray State, which had already clinched its 23rd regular season OVC title, has gotten used to lots of attention during an unprecedented season even by Racers' standards.
"We're getting pretty used to coming into a gym, it being sold out and everybody going against us," Canaan said.
The Tigers had problems dealing with the nationally televised game with a standing-room only crowd of 10,125. The last time the Tigers had an event this big on campus that didn't involve graduation was back in 1980 when Stevie Wonder played the Gentry Center.
They outrebounded Murray State 36-24 and had a 36-20 edge in the paint.
But they couldn't match Murray State's shooting beyond the arc or inside. The Racers shot 56.5 percent (26 of 46) compared to 46.4 percent (23 of 57) for Tennessee State.
Whether nerves or too much adrenaline, Tennessee State struggled shooting air balls and committing turnovers. Jordan Cyphers had one of their worst turnovers of the game, overthrowing a teammate so badly the ball went well over the sideline media table. They also missed all seven 3-point attempts in the first half and didn't hit from beyond the arc until Covington's 3 with 17:45 left in the second half.
"It was pretty bad," Covington said. "We kind of fell apart, and that's not what we're used to doing."
Cooper noted Covington seemed crushed by missing his first free throw even though the junior isn't a 100 percent shooter.
"I don't know if it was the environment and the hoopla and everything else. I always try to tell our guys ... you have to control your emotions," Cooper said.
The Tigers stayed close early with two ties and six lead changes. Murray State took the lead for good at 18-17 midway through the first half on Mushatt's layup. Tennessee State got within three points twice, the last on Covington's rebound of Chris Conner's missed 3 for a layup that made it 31-28 with 2:46 left.
That's when the Racers started scoring.
Mushatt hit a 3 from the corner, Canaan added a 3. Jackson scored on a layup, then pulled up for a 3 on the next trip down the court. Covington, the Tigers' leading scorer, shot an airball. The Racers got the rebound, and Poole hit the eighth 3 of the half just before the buzzer prompting Mushatt to stand for a couple of seconds looking up at the fans.
Murray State opened the lead with a 12-2 run that ended with Mushatt's 3 that made it 58-38 with 13:21 left.
"It just happened that way we were knocking them down tonight," Poole said of scoring 3s in transition.
Even when the Racers had four players with at least three fouls each, Tennessee State couldn't get closer than 12 points on a 3 by Kenny Moore with 3:54 remaining. Poole answered with another 3, and Canaan hit Murray State's 12th 3 with 2:42 to go, matching the Racers' season-high set Dec. 30 at Eastern Illinois. After Ed Daniel got a loose ball and went in alone for a dunk with 1:23 left for a 78-60 lead, fans started heading toward the exits.
Maryland point guard Melo Trimble, considered a lock to leave the program before struggling in the second half last season, has withdrawn from the NBA draft and will return for his junior season.
Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku, who recently underwent a medical procedure to correct a heart rhythm issue detected during the combine, will keep his name in the NBA draft pool.
Andrew White III will return to the Nebraska men's basketball team next season after removing his name from the NBA draft.
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