Racers bound for NIT Quarterfinals

Jenny Rohl/The News Senior forward Jonathan Fairell goes up for a shot as a Tulsa player prepares to defend him.

Jenny Rohl/The News
Senior forward Jonathan Fairell goes up for a shot as a Tulsa player prepares to defend him.

The lights were dim and the arena was vibrating with noise as the Murray State Racers and the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane took to the court Monday night in the Donald W. Reynolds Center in Tulsa, Okla. Each team’s introduction video quieted the crowd before the lights returned and the players prepared for tipoff. The Racers won at the jump but were unable to score on their first possession. The Golden Hurricanes were unable to capitalize on their possession, as well, before junior forward Jeffery Moss hit nothing but net on a 3-pointer downcourt.

It was a back-and-forth battle as both teams fought for the lead. The Racers took their largest lead of the game, just a four-point margin, with 12 minutes to play in the half. They then continued to extend their lead as the Golden Hurricane struggled with a four-minute scoring drought. Tulsa’s shots bounced and bobbled as the Racers’ fell perfectly into sync. Shooting 62.5 percent from the field and 64.3 from behind the arc, the Racers entered the locker room leading 45-27 with a 15-5 run at the end of the first half.

“We just ended with an explosion,” said Head Coach Steve Prohm. “It was 3, 3, 3. We stopped even looking at the score, really.”

The Racers came out in the second half with the same fire they showed in the first. Sophomore point guard Cameron Payne started things off with a 3-pointer and senior forward Jarvis Williams tacked on a free throw shortly after. The Golden Hurricane’s junior guard Shaquille Harrison added three points for Tulsa before the Golden Hurricane suffered yet another four-minute scoring drought. The Racers continued to build a steady lead despite Payne and Williams finding foul trouble early. Payne committed his fourth foul just seven minutes into the first half and was sent to the bench with 18 points, two rebounds and seven assists. Senior guard T.J. Sapp added 17 points to the game total, three of which were 3-pointers.

Payne returned to the floor with eight minutes left and immediately sunk a floater. Downcourt, he fouled for the fifth time and headed to the bench for the remainder of the game, much to the Tulsa crowd’s pleasure. Despite fouling out, Payne led the team in scoring with 20 points at the final buzzer. Sapp took over the offense while junior forward Wayne Langston and sophomore guard Justin Seymour both played valuable minutes for the Racers. Seymour added eight points to the total while Langston pulled down 12 rebounds.

“We’ve got guys that can shoot,” Prohm said. “They all four can really make shots. People said all along, when we make shots, we’re a really good basketball team. People just haven’t had a chance to really see us.”

Williams joined Payne on the bench after fouling out with three minutes left on the clock, but not before racking up 15 points, 11 of which came from free throws. The Golden Hurricane didn’t stop as the Racers wore down without two of their starters, but they finally admitted defeat with a minute and a half left as they put in a platoon of players off the bench. Murray State shortly followed suit.

The clock timed out with the Racers taking home an 83-62 victory over the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane. News of the night’s other second-round NIT matchup flooded through the arena as it was made known that the Racers would play Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. on Wednesday evening during the NIT quarterfinals. Tomorrow, Prohm doesn’t plan to practice as a team, rather they will travel and watch film on Old Dominion.

“We love to play ball,” Payne said. “It’s going to be fun to me. We were in there talking – we’re glad we don’t have practice!”

Story by Mallory Tucker