NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For Tennessee State, poor offense turned into some bad defense, and No. 14 Murray State made the Tigers pay.
The Tigers allowed Murray State to match a season-high by going 12 of 22 from 3-point range — with many of those coming in transition off their own misses — in an 80-62 loss Thursday night.
With the loss, the Tigers (19-11, 11-5 Ohio Valley Conference) wrapped up their regular season with their best record since 1993-94 even though they missed their first chance at sweeping Murray State since 1993. They handed the Racers their lone loss this season — 72-68 on Feb. 9 — only to see Murray State snap Tennessee State's nine-game winning streak this time
"It's a chance for them to avenge the loss that they had so we were going to have to play extremely well also," Tennessee State coach John Cooper said. "Am I overly upset that we lost? No, that's part of it. I told our group if you tell me before the season we're going to have stretches where we win nine out of 10 games every time that means we are 27-3. We're pretty ... good if that's the case."
The Tigers went 9-23 in Cooper's first season and 14-16 last season.
Now Tennessee State is off until March 2 when the Tigers play again in the OVC tournament semifinals in Nashville. A win would give them a chance at a third game against Murray State with an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament at stake.
"We have two games to play if we want to realize our dreams," Cooper said.
The Racers (27-1, 14-1) blew a 13-point lead in losing that first game to Tennessee State. On Thursday, they used a 14-0 run over the final 2:31 of the first half 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. Isaiah Canaan scored 24 points, Poole added 16 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."
Robert Covington led the Tigers with 24 points and 15 rebounds and Kellen Thornton had 17 points.
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.
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."
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.
Even when the Racers had four players with at least three fouls each, Tennessee couldn't get closer than 12 points on a 3 by Kenny Moore with 3:54 remaining.