MURRAY — Murray State knows each game could be its last, so the Racers want to go out with a win and they want to make a statement doing it.
Jarvis Williams had 25 points and 14 rebounds and Murray State beat Texas-El Paso 81-66 on Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT.
Murray State (28-5), excluded from the 68-team NCAA Tournament field after losing in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship, made its eighth appearance in the NIT — its first since 2011.
T.J. Sapp added 21 points for Murray State and Jonathan Fairell grabbed 10 rebounds. Cameron Payne neared a triple-double with 14 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds as the Racers won their 15th game in a row at home.
"As leaders of the team, we take it upon ourselves that when we step on the court, we have to be ready to roll," Williams said.
Cameron Payne neared a triple-double, scoring 14 points while dishing out 10 assists and pulling down seven rebounds.
In a first half that featured four ties and 12 lead changes, Williams scored eight points in 5 minutes to lead Murray State on a 12-2 run to take a 37-32 lead at the half.
The Miners (22-11) were trying to win an opening round game for the seventh time and first since 2006. They shot 8 of 27 (29.6 percent) from the field in the second half.
C.J. Cooper led UTEP with 16 points, while Vince Hunter added 11, and Earvin Morris and Omega Harris finished with 10 each.
Morris' free throw cut the Racers lead to nine points with 18:38 to play, but the Miners trailed by double digits for the remainder of the game after a layup from Sapp.
"It could be our last game any game," Sapp said. "We have to be focused. We have to come out with the right mentality that we have a chip on our shoulder. We feel like people aren't hearing us right now."
UTEP: The Miners went down by as many as 16 points three separate times and couldn't get out of the hole, shooting 29.6 percent in the second half.
Murray State: Coach Steve Prohm said the Racers' 11-2 road record will be tested in the second round.
"We're going to have to go up there ready to play," Prohm said. "It's going to take a great, great effort to go up there and beat Tulsa on the road."
UTEP: Season complete.
Murray State: The Racers will play Tulsa (23-10).