The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team used one of its best defensive performances of the season to clinch a 65-62 triumph over SIU Edwardsville in Ohio Valley Conference action at the Vadalabene Center.
UT Martin (5-16, 2-7 OVC) built a steady lead from the start and only trailed for 28 seconds late in the contest before digging in on the defensive end in the final two minutes. That staunch defensive mindset resulted in the lowest amount of points conceded by the Skyhawks against a Division-I team this season.
“We played with a sense of urgency,” UT Martin head coach Jason James said. “We were very active in our zone – flying around, rebounding the ball and doing a little bit of everything. We were able to make some shots but even when we didn’t make our shots, we were still guarding – that’s why we were able to be successful. We stayed together and came out here in a hostile environment and overcame. Basketball doesn’t build character – it reveals it. Tonight we saw the team we can be if we put our minds to it.”
Junior Mike Liabo compiled a co-game-high 16 points tonight, while Myles Taylor racked up his ninth career double-double – tallying 12 points to go along with a career-best 14 rebounds. Jeremy Washington tied a season-high with 15 points while adding five rebounds and a pair of blocks tonight for UT Martin, who also received eight points out of Terence Smith and a career-best six points by DeMarc Richardson to round out the starting five.
James was impressed with his team’s composure down the stretch and throughout the entire evening, particularly by Taylor and Liabo.
“Myles impacted the game by doing the fundamental things – posting hard and showing his hands, being assertive with his moves and getting to the free throw line,” James said. “Mike’s tipped rebound to himself late in the game was smart basketball and his three-pointer after we went down by one was absolutely huge. That was a heck of a big play and I think that may have been the play to get us over the hump.”
Mark Yelovich posted team-highs of 16 points and seven rebounds for SIU Edwardsville (7-11, 3-5 OVC). Jerome Jones added 13 points for the Cougars, the second place team in the OVC West division.
The Skyhawks got off to a blazing start thanks to a strong defensive effort. UT Martin held SIU Edwardsville to two field goals in its first 14 attempts, allowing the Skyhawks to go ahead by a 13-5 margin seven minutes into the contest.
SIU Edwardsville would get within one point twice, but Omari Minor scored three straight points and Justin Childs added a long jumper to give UT Martin a 20-14 advantage at the 8:16 mark.
Liabo helped the Skyhawks extend their lead out to eight points. The sophomore – who attended Brehm Prep School just two hours away in Carbondale – poured in seven straight points for UT Martin over a stretch of 2:42 to give the Skyhawks an eight-point lead (34-26) with 40 seconds left in the first half.
The Cougars would score on their final possession of the first half, resulting in a 34-28 Skyhawk lead at the break.
Liabo’s nine points paced UT Martin at halftime, as seven Skyhawks scored at least three points to lead a balanced scoring attack. Yelovich tallied 10 points to lead SIU Edwardsville, who was held to 33 percent shooting (9-for-27) in the first 20 minutes.
A leaner by Washington on UT Martin’s first possession of the second half gave the Skyhawks a 36-28 lead. Two minutes later, the Cougars would get within five points but back-to-back baskets by Taylor (layup) and Smith (three-pointer) resulted in UT Martin’s first double-digit lead of the evening (43-33) with 16:04 left to play.
Washington converted a tough turnaround jumper at the 15:09 mark to keep the Skyhawk lead at 10. The Cougars came back with seven unanswered points to get within three until a Taylor free throw at the 10:43 mark ended UT Martin’s scoring drought.
Less than a minute later, a steal and emphatic fast break dunk by Richardson gave the Skyhawks a six-point edge at 48-42. A pair of Washington free throws 21 seconds later pushed UT Martin’s lead out to seven, but SIU Edwardsville answered with a 9-2 run to tie the score at 52-all at the 6:09 mark.
UT Martin bounced back with a 5-0 run, but a Cougar three-pointer at the 4:00 mark sliced the Skyhawk lead to 57-55. Washington responded with a clutch running jumper in the lane on UT Martin’s next possession to push the Skyhawks ahead by four.
SIU Edwardsville then quickly scored five straight points – taking its first lead of the game off a Jones three-pointer at the 2:06 mark. On UT Martin’s next trip down the floor, Liabo sank a trifecta from the left wing to tilt the score back in the Skyhawks’ favor, 62-60.
The Cougars would tie the game on a long jumper by Jones at the 1:15 mark, but two free throws by Taylor put the Skyhawks back on top 64-62 with 43 seconds left. After a defensive stand in which Liabo skied high for a big defensive rebound, Taylor was once again fouled with 16 seconds remaining. The sophomore missed the first attempt but sank his second shot
On SIU Edwardsville’s ensuing possession, the Skyhawk defense came up big once again – forcing their 11th turnover of the evening. After a successful inbounds pass, Smith dribbled out the clock to seal the UT Martin victory.
UT Martin now opens a four-game OVC homestand this Thursday, Jan. 31 when it hosts the Eastern Kentucky Colonels at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
This recap was provided by UT Martin Athletics