A late first-half rally and dominant final 20 minutes Tuesday night has the Racers set to host one final game for a shot at a CollegeInsiders.com Tournament championship.
Pacific made the long trip from Stockton, Calif., to take on Murray State with a berth in the CIT championship on the line. The Tigers left empty handed, however, suffering a 98-75 loss thanks to a big performance from freshman guard Cameron Payne and a locked-in Racer team.
The Racers struggled initially, trailing throughout the game’s first 13 minutes. The team turned the tide, however, as Payne and junior guard T.J. Sapp ignited the Murray State offense.
The duo of Sapp and Payne scored 19 of the Racers’ next 21 points and sent the Racers into the break with an 11-point lead after closing the half on a 19-8 run.
“(Sapp and Payne) have both been very consistent scoring the basketball and on the defensive end,” junior forward Jarvis Williams said. “They’re the type of guys who stay after practice and shoot all the time in the gym. It’s just a compliment to their hard work.”
Though held scoreless after halftime, Payne’s 21 first-half points proved devastating for the visiting Tigers.
The Racers picked up where they left off after the halftime break as sophomore guard Jeffery Moss made a deep 3 only 17 seconds in to extend the lead to 14.
Murray State never let up. Riding the play of several inexperienced players, the Racers outscored Pacific 49-37 in the second half en route to the 98-75 victory.
“The reason we’re playing in this tournament is for these guys to get better for next year,” senior guard Dexter Fields said. “That’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re going out and playing their tails off every night. Most teams get in tournaments like this and they go out first round because they don’t want to play, but these guys have taken the right approach.”
Payne’s 21-point performance led the way, while Sapp contributed 18 and Williams overcame foul trouble to rack up 18 points and eight rebounds in only 18 minutes of play. Moss scored 15 to round out the Racers who scored double-digit points.
Murray State will now prepare for the final game of their season as they take on Yale for the CIT championship.
The Bulldogs defeated Virginia Military Institute 75-62 on the road Tuesday night to earn their spot in the championship game. Yale sports a 19-13 overall record and finished second to Harvard in the Ivy League standings.
“We’re going to have to be ready,” said Murray State Head Coach Steve Prohm. “We’ll have to be locked in. I know rebounding will be a big key, just talking to one of my coaches who scouted them.”
Yale and Murray State tip off Thursday at 6 p.m. at the CFSB Center.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer