MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team did not trail at any point this evening as the Skyhawks clinched their second straight Ohio Valley Conference West division championship with an 83-76 victory over Murray State.
Tonight’s win, combined with a Southeast Missouri loss to Austin Peay, sealed the outright OVC West title and No. 2 seed with a double bye into the semifinals of next week’s OVC Basketball Championships. UT Martin also earned its third consecutive 20-win campaign and broke a record for most wins (61) in any three-year span in school history.
“This was one of the best days of my life in athletics” said Skyhawk head coach Anthony Stewart. “I’m so proud of my team. They have overcome so much not only this year but throughout their lives. They showed so much wherewithal, character and class this year – they deserve this championship.”
UT Martin (20-11, 10-6 OVC) was led by Jacolby Mobley’s game-high 33 points, as the senior nailed five 3-pointers and made 14 free throws. Javier Martinez corralled his 12th double-double of the season with 19 points (on 9-of-10 shooting) and 12 rebounds while Matthew Butler (18 points) rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Skyhawks. Chandler Rowe played big with 10 rebounds, three blocks, two assists and two steals while Kedar Edwards compiled eight points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals for UT Martin.
Murray State (14-16, 8-8 OVC) was led by Jonathan Stark’s 23 points while Jalen Dupree posted a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. Bryce Jones added 13 points for the Racers, who shot just 20.6 percent (7-of-34) from beyond the three-point arc.
It was an emotional atmosphere from the start, as the five Skyhawk seniors were honored in a pregame ceremony in conjunction with Senior Night. UT Martin jumped out to a 12-2 lead at the 15:26 mark, aided by a pair of Mobley trifectas.
Murray State got back within seven points thanks to consecutive three-pointers by Stark. However, the Skyhawks reeled off 12 unanswered points over the next 4:41, claiming a 31-12 advantage with a little under nine minutes to play in the opening half.
Mobley scored seven straight points for UT Martin as the Skyhawks took a 42-20 lead with 3:57 to go before the break. The senior out of Starkville, Miss. would drain a deep three-pointer from the right wing with two seconds to go before halftime to make the score 50-26 in favor of UT Martin.
The Skyhawks shot 60 percent (18-of-30) in the first half as Mobley’s 23 points led all scorers at the break. Stark accumulated 11 points to guide the Racers, who shot 29 percent (9-for-31) from the floor.
Murray State scored the first five points of the second half but two straight layups by Martinez helped UT Martin keep a sizeable lead (54-34) with 17:24 to go. Another Martinez layup at the 11:19 mark made the score 66-46 in favor of the Skyhawks.
The Racers then got back in the game, using a 17-2 run over a span of 5:52 to get all the way within one point (75-74) with just under two minutes remaining. Mobley calmly knocked down a pair of free throws with 1:31 remaining before a defensive stand led to two Butler free throws and a 79-74 Skyhawk lead.
Over the final 40 seconds, Butler would knock down two more clutch free throws while Martinez and Mobley added another free throw apiece to wrap up UT Martin’s win.
The Skyhawks will play either No. 3 Morehead State, No. 6 Tennessee Tech or No. 7 Murray State in the OVC semifinals on Friday, March 3. The game, which will be televised nationally on ESPNU, will start at 9 p.m.