Middle Tennessee's men narrowed a double-digit deficit to a two-possession game late in the second half, but Murray State came away with a 93-87 home victory Saturday night at the CFSB Center.
Josh Jefferson scored a career-high 31 points as the Blue Raiders came up short on the road.
"I thought we played hard," MTSU coach Nick McDevitt said. "And I told our team this in the locker room: I thought we had the right kind of disappointment and the right kind of energy, knowing that there's some things that we can clean up, that we can coach. It's hard to have guys with that kind of fight in them, and we've got it."
Jefferson sparked the Blue Raiders early, scoring eight points in the game's first 3:03, including a 3-pointer that put his team up 10-9. He finished the half with 18 points, capped by a deep three to cut the Racer lead to four. Murray State would take a 44-40 lead into the locker room.
The two teams spent 18:56 of the first 20 minutes separated by six points or less. Neither side led by more than seven in the opening period.
Murray State built a lead as large as 17 with just over 10 minutes to play in regulation. MT cut that lead to five over the next five minutes thanks to a combined 14 points by Donovan Sims and Jefferson generated by a tenacious full-court press.
The Racers pulled farther away down the stretch, building their lead back to double-digits with consistency at the free throw line. Murray State made 18 of its 23 second-half free throw attempts. For the game, the Racers attempted 35 free throws compared the Middle Tennessee's 10.
Sims, Teafale Lenard Jr., and Eli Lawrence combined for 11 of the game's final 14 points to narrow the gap, but the final horn sounded with the Racers ahead by six.
Jefferson finished 11-for-21 from the floor, including 5-for-12 from long range. DeAndre Dishman led the Blue Raiders with six rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Sims added a season-high 19 points, while Lawrence joined him in double figures at 13.
Tyler Millin blocked a personal-best three shots, tying the most by a Blue Raider on the season. MT falls to 0-2 in true road games and 2-2 away from the Murphy Center this season.