MARTIN, Tenn. – For the first time this season, all five University of Tennessee at Martin starters scored in double-figures as the Skyhawk men’s basketball team rolled to an 85-68 victory at home against Eastern Kentucky.
With the win, UT Martin (17-9, 7-4 Ohio Valley Conference) moves into sole possession of first place in the OVC West division standings.
Jacolby Mobley scored a team-high 21 points and tied a career-high with five assists tonight for the Skyhawks, who also received double-doubles from the frontcourt duo of Javier Martinez (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Chandler Rowe (10 points, 10 rebounds). Kedar Edwards compiled 14 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals while Matthew Butler tossed in 11 points with zero turnovers in 38 minutes for a UT Martin squad that overcame a six-point halftime deficit by shooting 62.1 percent (18-of-29) in the final 20 minutes.
Eastern Kentucky (10-16, 3-8 OVC) received 21 points by Dillon Avare off the bench. Nick Mayo (17 points) and Asante Gist (13 points) also scored in double-figures but the Skyhawks began the second half on a 16-0 run and never looked back.
“I didn’t think that we had a great energy in the first half but in the second half, we were tremendous because we really concentrated on our defense,” UT Martin head coach Anthony Stewart said. “We’ve been able to score all year but our defensive intensity hasn’t been consistent enough. Tonight, we had five guys all on the same page believing that defense is how we were going to win.”
The first half was wild from the start, as the lead changed hands 15 times in the opening 20 minutes. Butler knocked in a three-pointer to open the game’s scoring but Rowe accounted for eight of the Skyhawks’ next 13 points. A Martinez layup with just under nine minutes to play in the first half pushed UT Martin ahead by an 18-16 margin.
Three-pointers on back-to-back possessions by Mobley and Dante Bailey provided the Skyhawks with a 28-26 lead with 5:27 remaining before the halftime break. However, the Colonels managed a 7-0 run in the final 90 seconds to take a 39-33 advantage into the locker room at the half.
Rowe supplied eight points and eight rebounds in the first half but Avare’s 15 points were enough to lead all scorers at the break.
A determined UT Martin squad took the floor in the second half, as the Skyhawks poured in the first 16 points on their way to claiming a 20-7 rebounding edge in the last 20 minutes.
Edwards ramped up the UT Martin intensity, scoring eight of the Skyhawks’ first 10 points during the run. Rowe (layup) and Mobley (fast break three-pointer) capped off the surge with buckets that gave UT Martin a 49-39 lead with 15:35 left to play.
Eastern Kentucky scored its first points of the second stanza at the 15:06 mark but a Martinez layup and Mobley triple pushed the Skyhawk advantage back out to 13 points.
The Colonels got within 11 points with 9:30 to go but Martinez scored the final four points of a brief 6-0 UT Martin run to make the score 66-49 with a little under eight minutes on the clock.
A backdoor layup by Mobley at the 5:44 mark extended the Skyhawk advantage to 72-52 as UT Martin would lead by as many as 22 points down the stretch.
The Skyhawks go back on the road for their next three games, starting with a swing through the Land of Lincoln to take on Eastern Illinois (Feb. 9) and SIUE (Feb. 11) next week.