NCAA BK

Tenn. Tech loses to No. 12 Murray St. 78-58 at OVC

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)

Tennessee Tech felt ready to play Murray State for the second time in seven days. A slow start against the 12th-ranked team in the country proved too much to overcome.

Murray State jumped out to an 18-4 lead, and the Racers never let Tennessee Tech get closer than five in losing 78-58 in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament semifinals Friday night.

''I thought we fought,'' Tennessee Tech first-year coach Steve Payne said. ''We started as poor as we can start.''

Tennessee Tech hasn't won an OVC title since 1967, and these Golden Eagles (19-13) came in with Kevin Murphy and Judd Dillard the third-best scoring duo in Division I averaging 38.6 points per game. They topped that, but only with Murphy scoring 31 points. Dillard, limited to eight minutes in the first half with two personal fouls, finished with only eight.

Murray State (29-1) also held Tennessee Tech well below its average of 74.8 points per game. Now the Golden Eagles will wait and see if they get a chance to keep playing. Payne said they had been contacted by three tournaments already.

The Racers will play in the championship Saturday trying to add a 15th overall tournament title to their regular season title.

''We knew, and we know, what we've got to do to get to the ultimate goal, which is winning the all-out conference championship,'' Racers junior Isaiah Canaan said. ''So we just had to keep continue doing the things we've been doing all season and everything else is going to work out on its own. We just decided to listen to our coaches and keep playing hard and everything will work out on its own.''

The Racers beat Tennessee Tech 69-64 to wrap up the regular season on Feb. 25. They showed fresh legs and no rust while beating the Golden Eagles for the third time this season in a nice payback after losing in the semifinals to Tennessee Tech a year ago.

Payne said there was no shame in losing to Murray State.

''They're good,'' Payne said. ''Their record is what it is, and they are ranked what they are ranked for a reason. And did I think we could beat them? Yeah. I think we could, thought we would. But I give them a lot of credit. I mean I don't know how you can look at them and say they are not a great basketball team.''

With a win Saturday, the Racers would lock up their second automatic berth in three seasons as the tournament champ.

Donte Poole, who scored 25 points, said the Racers weren't thinking of last year's semifinal loss and simply focused on shutting down Tennessee Tech. That they did, holding the Golden Eagles well below their 74.8-point per game average.

''We just don't want it to end,'' Poole said. ''Everything has to end at some point. We just want to take it as long as we can. We didn't want to come in here and just be in here to be here. Our goal here was to win the championship while we're here. We want to win at least every single game we can and take this as long as we can get it.''

Canaan had 18 points, Ed Daniel added 11 for the Racers.

Murphy became the 16th OVC player with 2,000 career points in finishing with 2,012.

''We came out and fought hard,'' Murphy said. ''I think we could have done a little more. Murray, they're a good team. We tried our best.''

The Racers outshot Tennessee Tech all over the floor, hitting 54.9 percent (28 of 51) overall compared to 39.3 percent (22 of 56). They also were just faster all night too. They outscored Tennessee Tech 19-4 off the fastbreak and had a 42-20 edge in the paint.

Murphy, the 12th-best scorer in Division I with 20.7 points per game, finally got going after missing his first two shots for Tennessee Tech. He hit a jumper with 10:25 left, and he scored 17 points to help the Golden Eagles pare the lead down to 37-30 by halftime.

Canaan helped answer each time. Once Tennessee Tech guard Zach Bailey hit two free throws with 12.1 seconds left after being fouled by Canaan, the Murray State junior finished the half with a running jumper just before halftime.

Daniels had three dunks on the Racers' first five buckets, the third with 16:09 left for a 48-36 lead, and the Racers just kept padding the lead from there. Poole scored seven straight points for Murray State to push the lead to 62-43 midway through the half.

The Racers led by as much as 21 in the final minutes.

Tagged: Tennessee, Tennessee Tech, Murray State, Kevin Murphy, Isaiah Canaan, Donte Poole

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