MARTIN, Tenn. -- Go ahead. Pack the gym and pump up the noise. The Murray State Racers are doing just fine at handling all the attention that comes with being the lone undefeated men's team in Division I.
The Racers (23-0, 11-0 Ohio Valley Conference) brought plenty of fans to cheer the school's longest winning streak. Combined with a "We Back Pat" night dedicated to alum Pat Summitt helping raise money for Alzheimer's, a sold-out crowd of 4,700 packed the Elam Center with fans lining the upper walkway.
They didn't shoot near as well as they usually do. And they couldn't close out Tennessee-Martin.
They did win yet again, and Murray State coach Steve Prohm was happy with that.
"What these guys are getting faced with every single night, and this is what people need to understand," Prohm said. "They're playing in front of sellout crowds every night on the road every time since Memphis. So you're getting every best shot whether you're at Tennessee-Martin or you're at Austin Peay or you're at SEMO or Memphis, whichever it may be. So very proud of our guys."
Tennessee Martin (3-22, 0-12) lost its 13th straight, and coach Jason James praised his Skyhawks for playing hard throughout. They held Murray State to 3 of 17 (17.6 percent) from 3-point range, well below its usual 41.9 percent. The Racers also shot 42.4 percent from the floor when they average 47.7 percent.
"We didn't let them blow us out," James said. "We kept fighting. We kept competing."
Prohm said it felt like a high school Friday night with all the fans packed into the muggy gym. As the final seconds ticked off, those Racers fans chanted, "Un-de-feat-ed."
James said they expected plenty of Racers fans with Murray State about an hour's drive away. They had an impact, too. With six seconds on the shot clock, the Racers fans chanted a quick count and got Tennessee-Martin's Omari Minor to hurry a 3 that hit nothing but air.
"Our guys are impressionable. So impressionable when you say the clock's running down, we're probably going to shoot it. That's just how we are," James said with a wry smile. "We're all right with that."
Murray State improved to 40-3 all-time against the Skyhawks and 18-3 in Martin.
The Skyhawks outrebounded Murray State 47-39, but the Racers outscored them in the paint (38-30), off turnovers (11-3) and had a big edge off the bench (24-8). Zay Jackson had a team-high nine points off the bench followed by Ivan Aska as the senior works his way back from a broken hand. Aska had eight points, three rebounds and two blocks.
"They had jumped on us early, but we kept our composure," Aska said. "We did what we had to do and stuff like that. We didn't get rattled too much.
Prohm called it a great team win a game after Canaan scored 24 of 32 in the second half to rally the Racers from an 11-point deficit.
"Today he went 4 for 12, wasn't able to make shots," Prohm said. "He was 0 for 4 today from the 3, but Zay made big plays. Jewuan got the basket, made some layups. ... I'm proud of our guys."
Tennessee-Martin kept it close in the first half with five ties and four lead changes after Murray State looked ready to blow the Skyhawks off the court in the opening minutes by scoring the first seven points, the last on a layup by Mushatt.
Mike Liabo answered finally with a 3-pointer for the Skyhawks, and that started a 13-2 spurt keyed by six points from Taylor, and his jumper with 13:50 left gave Tennessee-Martin a 13-9 lead that would be its biggest of the game.
Troy King hit a jumper that pulled the Skyhawks into their final tie at 19. Mushatt came back with another layup with 7:23 left to put Murray State ahead to stay.
Neither team could hit from beyond the arc early, but the Skyhawks pulled up far too often for 3-pointers that clanked off the rim in going 1 of 10 in the first half. Murray State wasn't much better (2 of 12). The Racers did manage to have a 13-6 edge in points on second chances.
One of their best came when Canaan stole the ball and tried to finish off a fast break with a layup only to miss. Poole got the rebound and put it back up for a 30-21 lead with 3:15 left in the first in helping the Racers to a 37-28 halftime lead.
Tennessee-Martin never got closer than five in the second half on consecutive buckets by Taylor, then Smith that got the Skyhawks within 41-36 with 14:13 to go. Jackson hit a 3, Aska scored, then Canaan finished off a three-point play for a 49-36 lead.
The Skyhawks pulled within six twice late, the last on a bucket by Corderio Maclin with 4:04 left to give the home fans hope of an upset. Donte Poole and Aska each hit a pair of free throws to push the lead back out and finish off the win.
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