The 32-year-old Gentry Center had never been treated to a basketball crowd like this.
Unfortunately Murray State rained on the parade of spectators who poured through the doors.
The 14th-ranked Racers dampened a near sellout crowd by matching a season-best with 12 3-pointers. Tennessee State didn’t have an answer in an 80-62 defeat in front of 10,125 on Thursday night.
Behind Isaiah Canaan’s 24 points and five 3-pointers, the Racers avenged their only loss and snapped TSU’s nine-game winning streak in front of the largest non-graduation crowd since a Stevie Wonder concert in 1980 drew more than 11,000.
When the teams met two weeks ago, TSU rallied (19-11, 11-5 in the Ohio Valley Conference) in the second half and upset Murray (27-1, 14-1), the nation’s last undefeated team.
But the Racers shut out any chance of a repeat with a barrage of 3-pointers in the last 2:31 of the opening half of TSU’s regular-season finale. Four different Murray players made a trey during the stretch and three came in transition after TSU misses. After Robert Covington, who finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds for the Tigers, missed everything with a 3-point attempt, Donte Poole provided the dagger. His spot-up 3-pointer from the corner with .7 seconds left capped off a 14-0 run and gave Murray a 45-28 halftime lead.
“We kind of fell apart,” junior forward Kellen Thornton said. “That is not what we are used to doing. We just went about it the wrong way. We gave up a lot of open shots in transition and that is because we were playing bad offensively. A lot of guys were down on themselves for missing shots.”
The Tigers came out of the gate jumpy, often overshooting the rim and sailing passes. Perhaps the magnitude of the game, which was televised nationally on ESPNU, got to them.
“Based on the first three horrendous shots that we took of the game ... absolutely,” TSU coach John Cooper said. “I literally was stunned at our first three shots. I thought we settled down. I don’t think we ever got to the point where we really made a run at them and really knocked them back on their heels.”
The first 10 minutes included six lead changes but Murray went ahead for good on a jumper by Latreze Mushatt with 10:29 to go in the first half.
TSU started strong after halftime and pulled within 10 on Thornton’s 3-point play with 16:47 left. However, on the ensuing possession, Canaan picked up where he left off. With one second left on the shot clock he banked in a jumper falling down. He knocked down a 3-pointer after a shot fake a couple minutes later and Mushatt capped off the 12-2 run with another 3-pointer to give Murray its largest lead, 58-38, with 13:22 remaining.
“Once we got the lead we weren’t going to try to make it a fighting game,” Canaan said. “We knew they was going to have a lot of energy and try to come out and steal another one. We couldn’t let them do that this time.”
Thornton scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds off the bench. TSU outrebounded the Racers (36-24), had the edge in the paint (36-20) and with second-chance points (27-3). But the Tigers lost the 3-point battle. TSU shot 2-of-15 while Murray was 12-of-22.
Poole added four 3-pointers and 16 points and Zay Jackson scored 11 for Murray, which has won nine of 10 against TSU.
The Racers also snapped TSU’s 11-game winning streak. In the last two seasons, the Tigers are 22-4 at the Gentry Center with Murray accounting for half the losses.
The Tigers don’t play again until next Friday in the semifinals of the OVC Tournament. TSU locked up the No. 2 seed last week and, like Murray, receives two byes in the eight-team tournament.
“It will be a good thing if they let it stew and it bothers them and they treat it the right way,” Cooper said. “The key for me is how do I keep this group ready? How do I keep this group on edge with these off days? So we’ll figure that out.”