A backdoor layup by Justin Childs with two seconds remaining completed a ten-point 2nd half comeback, as UT Martin pulled off a thrilling 65-63 win over Kennesaw State at home. The win is the first of the season for the Skyhawks over a Division I opponent.
The Skyhawks trailed by nine with five minutes remaining before ending the game on a 15-4 run. The run was sparked by back-to-back threes from Mike Liabo, who finished the game with 14 points. Myles Taylor again led the way for UT Martin, finishing with 20 on 8-12 shooting, and Khristian Taylor handed out a career-high 10 assists (against only three turnovers) in 28 minutes off the bench.
The 10th assist would be the pass to Childs for the game winner, but that wasn’t exactly how the final play was drew up.
“It was all scripted except for Justin’s backcut,” head coach Jason James said after the win. “We wanted to get Khristian on the run, and Justin was smart enough to cut and get a layup.”
James added the original play had Khristian either driving to the basket, or kicking out to Liabo for a three if his man collapsed inside.
Even with the efforts of all the players mentioned above, James has a different selection for the game’s most valuable player.
“If we were going to give out a game ball for tonight, it would have went to Pierre Mopo,” James said. “We needed big time stops on Cummings late and Mopo was physical with him and was able to make his shots tough. He played a really big role late in the game.”
Kennesaw State opened the game on a 11-2 run, behind hot three point shooting, but would cool off quickly, shooting just 3-19 from the field over the last 11 minutes of the first half. The Owls pulled a similar disappearing act in the second half, starting off 12-24 before going just 2-8 from the floor in the last seven and a half minutes.
Turnovers played a big part in UT Martin falling behind in the second half. After just 5 first half turnovers, the Skyhawks got sloppy in the second, turning the ball over 11 times in the last 20 minutes. But the defense stepped up down the stretch, forcing seven Kennesaw State turnovers in the last seven minutes to get the win.
For Kennesaw State, Markeith Cummings scored 19 points, while Aaron Anderson added 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Transition play was a sore spot for the Skyhawks all night. Kennesaw State scored 14 fast break points, (to just 3 for UT Martin) and 19 points off UT Martin’s 16 turnovers.
“It’s been a concern to this point, and it will continue to be a concern,” James said of the Skyhawks play in transition. “It doesn’t have anything else to do, just our guys not sprinting back.”
The Skyhawks now will hit the road for three straight games, starting with a Wednesday matchup at Central Arkansas.