MARTIN, Tenn. — Tennessee Martin coach Jason James can find plenty to be happy about even though his Skyhawks came up short yet again.
They held 10th-ranked Murray State to a season-low in shooting percentage beyond the arc, played hard throughout and stayed close in losing their 13th straight 65-58 Saturday night.
"We didn't let them blow us out," James said. "We kept fighting. We kept competing, and that's the word that I take away from this game. If we compete like that on both ends of the floor, but especially the defensive end, then we'll be OK."
The Skyhawks held Murray State to 17.6 percent from beyond the arc (3 of 17), well below its usual 41.9 percent. The Racers also shot 42.4 percent from the floor when they average 47.7 percent. Dane Smith led the Skyhawks with 24 points and Myles Taylor added 14.
Just don't call this a moral victory for the Skyhawks (3-22, 0-12 Ohio Valley Conference).
"We've got a long way to get to where we want to get," James said.
James even was fine with how much Murray State yellow and blue filled the stands at the Elam Center. Combined with a "We back Pat" on a night dedicated to alum Pat Summitt helping raise money for Alzheimer's, a sold-out crowd of 4,700 packed the gym with fans lining the upper walkway.
With Murray State about an hour's drive away, James said the Racers always bring a good crowd with them. Those Racers fans made 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."
Isaiah Canaan, Latreze Mushatt and Jewuan Long each scored 11 points with the Racers' bench coming through with a 24-8 edge even though they had to work in closing out Tennessee Martin.
"What these guys are getting faced with every single night, and this is what people need to understand," Murray State coach Steve 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."
The Racers (23-0, 11-0) had their fans chanting, "Un-de-feat-ed" in the final minute in celebration, though they walked quietly off the court with their latest win.
Tennessee Martin outrebounded Murray State 47-39, but the Racers outscored them in the paint (38-30), off turnovers (11-3) and off the bench. 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.
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.
Tennessee-Martin never got closer than five in the second half, though 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.