After trailing by nine in the second half, the Racers earned a 66-63 victory on the road at Missouri State in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
The Racers defeated the Bears without the services of junior guard T.J. Sapp, who missed the game to be in Florida for the birth of his daughter.
The Racers jumped all over the Bears out of the gate, storming to a 16-3 lead in the game’s first five minutes. The Bears immediately responded as senior Jamar Gulley ignited a 16-2 Missouri State run to erase the early deficit. Murray State went into halftime trailing 37-36.
Murray State missed Sapp’s presence throughout the second half, as the Racers struggled to compete with the Bears’ depth off the bench.
The Bears kicked off the half with a 7-0 run and held a comfortable lead through much of the final 20 minutes.
Freshman guard Cameron Payne pulled his team back into the game as he capped a 9-2 Racer run with two free throws to make it a two point deficit with 13:24 to play.
The Racers kept it close but were unable to take a lead. Sophomore guard Tyler Rambo came up with a steal and took it the length of the court for a layup to cut the deficit to one with 1:13 left to play.
Not ready for his freshman season to end, Payne took over the game in the final minute.
The Bartlett, Tenn., native took the ball down the court and rose up to drain a floater to take the Racers’ first second-half lead with 20 seconds to play.
With a chance to win it, Missouri State freshman Austin Ruder’s 3-pointer missed the mark and Payne came up with the crucial rebound.
The Murray State freshman sealed the deal, sinking two free throws to push the lead to three and secure the victory.
Payne finished with 19 points and three assists, while junior forward Jarvis Williams led the way with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Racers now await a second-round opponent Friday or Saturday. Other teams advancing out of the first round include Yale, Towson, Ohio, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Omaha, Virginia Military Institute, Wright State, Eastern Michigan, East Tennessee State, Sam Houston, Columbia, San Diego and Holy Cross.
Photos by Jenny Rohl, The News