December 22, 2016

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CARBONDALE, Ill. – The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team held a nine-point lead in the second half this evening but the Southern Illinois Salukis stormed back to hand the Skyhawks a 78-70 setback at SIU Arena.

In a game that featured 12 ties and nine lead changes, UT Martin broke a 26-26 halftime tie and posted a nine-point edge with 17:55 remaining. However, the host Salukis clawed back and took the lead for good with 5:32 left to play.

Matthew Butler led the Skyhawks in scoring for the fourth time this season, compiling 19 points to go along with a game-high five assists while logging all 40 minutes. Kahari Beaufort set a new career-high in scoring for the second straight game, dialing up 15 points while keying UT Martin’s hot start to the second half. Javier Martinez (12 points) rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Skyhawks, who round out the nonconference season with a 10-5 record.

Southern Illinois (7-6) was led by Armon Fletcher’s 22 points while Sean O’Brien tallied 18 points. Mike Rodriguez and Sean Lloyd each accounted for 11 points apiece for the Salukis, who shot 60.7 percent (17-of-28) in the final 20 minutes.

“We didn’t execute down the stretch and that’s disappointing because that’s exactly what we did on Tuesday night (a 77-66 win at UMKC),” UT Martin head coach Anthony Stewart said. “We played hard but we didn’t do ourselves any favors. Tonight was a learning experience.”

It was a back-and-forth affair early, as the first half resulted in eight ties and seven lead changes. Martinez was responsible for UT Martin’s first four points of the game while a Beaufort three-pointer from the left side provided the Skyhawks with a 7-5 lead.

Southern Illinois took an 11-9 advantage before Fatodd Lewis, Malik London and Dante Bailey each scored during a 6-0 UT Martin run. The Salukis responded with five straight points to briefly go ahead before a Butler three-pointer from the right wing tilted the score back in favor of the Skyhawks with 6:36 remaining in the first half.

Another 6-0 UT Martin spurt turned a two-point deficit into a 26-22 advantage, as Lewis, Kedar Edwards and Martinez each scored inside during the run. Southern Illinois followed by scoring the final four points of the half as the score was knotted at 26-all at the break.

Martinez’s six points paced a balanced Skyhawk scoring attack in the first half, as seven different UT Martin players registered in the point column. O’Brien reeled off 14 first-half points for the Salukis, who were forced into 12 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes of play.

A hot stretch by Beaufort to begin the second half allowed the Skyhawks to take their biggest lead of the game. The junior guard out of Hartford, Conn. poured in the first five and 10 of the first 12 UT Martin points of the second half, resulting in a nine-point Skyhawk lead with just under 18 minutes on the clock.

Southern Illinois was able to get back within four points before a right wing trifecta by Butler pushed UT Martin’s advantage out to 41-34 at the 14:48 mark. The Salukis stormed back to even the score at 45-all but Butler came right back with a three-pointer from left wing just 32 seconds later.

Following another tie (50-50), Lewis buried a three-pointer from the left wing to make the score 53-50 with 8:46 left to play. Southern Illinois pushed back with seven unanswered points to go ahead by a 57-53 margin before a pair of Edwards free throws at the 6:54 mark. A defensive stop followed before Butler scored on a leaner to even the score once again at 57-all.

The Salukis accounted for 10 of the game’s next 12 points to go on top 67-59 but UT Martin didn’t quit. Butler knocked down a three-pointer and Martinez converted a layup at the 1:44 mark to pull the Skyhawks back within a single possession at 67-64.

However, Southern Illinois tallied the next nine points and UT Martin would not get any closer than six points the rest of the way.

The Skyhawks open Ohio Valley Conference play with a pair of home games next week. UT Martin takes on Jacksonville State on Thursday, Dec. 29 as the second game of a doubleheader with the Skyhawk women’s basketball team. Tipoff from the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center will take place at approximately 7:30 p.m.

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