Cameron Payne was held quiet in the first half, but the Miners couldn't contain him in the second as he found the basket and got his team going en route to an 81-66 win in the opening round of the NIT.
Murray State drew first blood, scoring a couple of quick baskets to jump out 4-0 just about a minute in. The Miners would battle in the early going though, answering back with six straight to take a 6-4 lead less than two minutes later.
The game would be tight for the next 12 minutes, but a wild sequence would give Murray the lead, and a little bit of momentum as the half neared. Following a clear defensive goaltending call on Earvin Morris, he was T'd up for what seemed to be arguing a non-call on the previous possession.
Tim Floyd lost his cool, and was subsequently given a tech as well. With the goaltending call, and the made free throws, the Racers went from down two, to up five in a matter of seconds. UTEP would fight to keep it close, but Murray State would use that momentum to take a 37-32 lead into the locker rooms.
What couldn't happen for the Miners to start the second half happened, and the Racers quickly ballooned their lead into double digits at 43-33 less than a minute and a half into the second.
That spurt would turn out to be a 13-1 run out of the break, and the Miners would find themselves down 50-34 following a T.J. Sapp made layup with 16:29 to play.
It would be an uphill battle from there, one the Miners simply wouldn't win. A Matt Willms free throw got them back to within single digits at 55-46 with just over 12 to play, but the Racers had an answer for every run UTEP would look to make.
Three minutes later the lead had ballooned back to 16, and wouldn't get much closer than that. The Miners would continue to play hard, but in the end would final themselves falling by a final of 81-66.
Jarvis Williams was simply unstoppable on the night, leading Murray State with 25 points and 14 rebounds. Sapp chipped in with 21 of his own, and Cameron Payne finished with 14 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds.
The Miners were led by C.J. Cooper who finished with 16 points and 4 assists. Vince Hunter notched a double-double of his own with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Omega Harris and Earvin Morris finished with 10 points apiece.
Murray State finished shooting a very good 49.1% from the field while the Miners were held to an ice cold 34.5%. Both teams shot fairly well from range, as the Miners went 6-12 and the Racers 6-16. Both teams shot right around 75% from the line, but the Miners did make seven more.
The Miners were also dominated on the glass, as Murray State finished with a 40-33 advantage, including 11-10 on the offensive end. Both teams finished with 10 turnovers, but perhaps the most glaring statistic was the Racers 20 assists. UTEP finished with just 10.
The loss ends the Miners season at 22-11, and caps off the careers of Julian Washburn, C.J. Cooper and Cedrick Lang. Those three have provided Miner nation with some great moments, and finish their careers as some of the best to ever wear the uniform.
Murray State improves to an NIT best 28-5, and will move on to play the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the round of 16. That game will take place in Tulsa, OK.
There's really not much to say about this one. The truth is, Murray State was just the better team. Yes we missed free throws. Yes we could've done better on the boards, but that is a top 25 team and one that was absolutely deserving of an NCAA bid. That much was obvious.
For the Miners, an up and down season has finally come to and end. It was disappointing to say the least; there's no hiding that. But in the end, there are still some bright spots to look forward to. It'll have to be a long wait, but one that hopefully will be well worth it.
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