For the second consecutive game, The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team turned up the defensive intensity and came away with an Ohio Valley Conference victory, defeating Eastern Kentucky by a 72-65 margin at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.
UT Martin limited the visiting Colonels to a season-low 35.4 field goal percentage, nearly doubling up Eastern Kentucky on the glass (51-26) in the process. The Skyhawks sank 50 percent (10-for-20) of their second half shot attempts, outscoring Eastern Kentucky 37-30 in the second half after the score was deadlocked at 35-all at the halftime break.
The Skyhawks placed three players in double-digits tonight, paced by the 10th career double-double by sophomore Myles Taylor. The 6-7 native of Little Rock, Ark. tied his career-high in rebounding for the second straight contest, hauling in 14 rebounds to go along with a game-high 21 points – his 12th career 20-plus point outing.
Mike Liabo poured in 16 points for UT Martin, nailing a trio of three-pointers. Jeremy Washington added 12 points and seven rebounds while Terence Smith amassed nine points, six rebounds and three assists for the Skyhawks, who improve to 6-16 with a 3-7 OVC mark.
Eastern Kentucky (16-6, 6-3 OVC) was led by Glenn Cosey’s 20 points, while Mike DiNunno added 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Corey Walden (11 points) and Tarius Johnson (10) also reached double-figures for the Colonels, who entered the game ranked No. 19 in the latest Mid-Major Top 25 poll and had only lost to Belmont (9-0 OVC).
“I’m so proud of our guys – it’s a huge win,” Skyhawk head coach Jason James said. “Words can’t express how excited I am for them to see another three or four days of hard work pay off. For us to come in and keep the game where it was and then late in the game execute enough to get over the hump was huge for our guys and their confidence. We needed a lift from the fans and they came through and that extra boost from the crowd helped us.”
It was the Colonels who jumped out to an early lead, scoring seven unanswered in the first two minutes. Liabo then caught fire for UT Martin, pouring in five straight points in back-to-back possessions. After Taylor made a pair of free throws at the 15:41 mark to even the score at 7-all, Eastern Kentucky reclaimed the lead but would not extend its advantage past four for the duration of the first half.
Two made free throws by Bobby Jones gave UT Martin its first lead of the contest (16-15) at the 9:23 mark. A little over a minute later, a layup by Taylor padded the Skyhawk lead out to three.
A 7-2 Eastern Kentucky run resulted in a four-point Colonel lead at the four minute mark, but six straight points by Taylor and two free throws by Smith resulted in the sixth tie of the first half – a 35-35 score that held up until halftime.
Taylor’s 15 points led all scorers at the break, while DiNunno (14 points) and Cosey (12) paced the Colonels.
Eastern Kentucky scored four straight points in the second half, but jumpers by Smith and Washington tied the score at 39-all with 17:46 left to play. The Colonels eventually went back on top by five points until a 6-0 Skyhawk run – capped off by a DeMarc Richardson layup with just under 12 minutes remaining – gave UT Martin a 47-46 lead.
The Colonels briefly led until another run by UT Martin, as Taylor and Liabo combined to outscore Eastern Kentucky 8-2 in a span of 3:36 to give the Skyhawks a 57-54 advantage with 6:28 left. UT Martin would not relinquish the lead the rest of the way.
After Eastern Kentucky got within two points with three minutes to play, Smith registered five straight points to conclude a 7-2 UT Martin run – including a big three-pointer on the left wing and a pair of free throws to extend the Skyhawk lead out to seven (66-59) with 1:29 to go.
Eastern Kentucky would close in within two points with 32 seconds left, but two clutch free throws by freshman Dee Oldham began a 5-0 Skyhawk run to close out the contest. Liabo and BJ McLaughlin also added big free throws in the final 10 seconds to ice UT Martin’s victory.
The Skyhawks will look to keep the momentum going next Thursday, when they host Eastern Illinois in the second of a four-game OVC homestand. Tip-off at the Elam Center is scheduled for 7 p.m.
This recap provided by UT Martin Athletics