MARTIN, Tenn. – Jailen Gill produced the best game of his University of Tennessee at Martin career as the Skyhawks cranked up the heat defensively in a gritty 63-60 triumph over Tennessee State to start Ohio Valley Conference play.
A junior forward out of Kansas City, Mo., Gill collected his second double-double of the season with career- and game-highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Skyhawks, who improve to 6-8 overall. Gill was a perfect 8-of-8 from the field while adding three free throws, two assists, two blocks and a steal in 34 minutes of play this evening.
Darius Thompson chipped in 12 points, five assists, a career-high four steals, three blocks and three rebounds in 44 minutes for UT Martin. Fatodd Lewis overcame a tough shooting night to secure 10 points while Mike Fofana hauled in a career-high nine rebounds to ignite a Skyhawk defensive attack that limited Tennessee State to 38.2 percent shooting (21-of-55).
The Tigers (5-7, 0-1 OVC) led by as many as 12 points in the first half but could only muster nine points over the final 10:54 of the contest. Ken’Darrius Hamilton led the way with 12 points as Kamar McKnight (11), Darreon Reddick (11) and Christian Mekowulu (10) also scored in double-figures for Tennessee State.
“It was a great win for our team,” UT Martin head coach Anthony Stewart said. “We are growing and getting better on a daily basis in practice. I think that was shown here today against a very well-coached and hard-playing Tennessee State team. Jailen was huge for us – he’s been plugging away, learning in the film room and doing individual training. I’m happy for him to see those results.”
Thompson was aggressive early, scoring four points during the Skyhawks’ 6-0 run to begin the game. Gill added a pair of free throws and Fofana dialed up a thunderous fast break dunk to make the score 10-2 in UT Martin’s favor at the 15:23 mark.
The Tigers then temporarily clicked offensively, scoring the first 11 points of a 21-1 run that resulted in a 23-11 Skyhawk deficit with nine minutes remaining before the halftime break.
Moments after a fast break layup by Terrence Parker concluded UT Martin’s field goal drought, the Skyhawks flipped the script and ended the first half on a run of their own. Six different UT Martin players scored during a 13-3 run over the final 6:29 of the opening stanza, resulting in a 28-26 Tennessee State lead at the break.
Thompson and Reddick each had a game-high seven points at halftime to lead their respective squads.
The Skyhawks piled up the first four points of the second half to take a 30-28 advantage after a layup by Thompson. The lead then changed hands six times to go along with three tie scores over the next 5:42.
Gill scored back-to-back buckets to break a 38-38 tie and nudge UT Martin ahead by four points with 12:25 remaining in regulation. The Tigers claimed a brief 51-49 lead with a little under six minutes left to play in the second half but Matthew Butler canned a jumper 16 seconds later and followed with a big three-pointer from the left wing to make the score 54-51 at the four-minute mark.
Tennessee State answered with the next five points of the game until a Gill layup with 1:05 to go in regulation sent the game into overtime with the score knotted at 56-all.
The Skyhawks tallied the first four points in the extra period and never looked back. Gill had a lay-in on a fast break and Lewis followed with a layup on a drive to the hoop, notching a 60-56 UT Martin lead midway through overtime. The Tigers crept within one point with 1:37 left to play but the Skyhawks held Tennessee State to 0-for-3 shooting from that point forward. Lewis toed the line and knocked down a pair of clutch free throws with 12 seconds remaining to provide the final scoring margin.
UT Martin rounds out its season-long four-game homestand on Saturday, Dec. 30 when it hosts OVC rival Belmont. The game, which serves as the backend of a doubleheader with the women’s basketball team, will tipoff at 6 p.m.