CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team pushed Big Ten Conference member Illinois to the brink tonight but the Skyhawks narrowly fell by a 77-74 margin at the State Farm Center.
After a late Fighting Illini run in the first half led to a 15-point UT Martin deficit at the break, Illinois expanded its lead out to 19 points early in the second half. After the Skyhawks trailed by 16 points with under four minutes to go, UT Martin continued to chip away and eventually had two chances to tie the game in the final three seconds. However, Illinois eluded overtime as the Skyhawks could not manage a game-tying field goal.
UT Martin (0-2) was led by junior guard Delfincko Bogan, who produced a stat line of 23 points, four rebounds, six assists and seven steals in 34 minutes off the bench. Matthew Butler added 16 points while Dominique Williams tossed in 15 points for the Skyhawks. Fatodd Lewis tallied eight points and a team-best seven rebounds for UT Martin, who shot 50 percent (16-of-32) in the second half to put a scare into the Fighting Illini.
Leron Black produced team-highs of 23 points, eight rebounds and three assists for Illinois (2-0). The Fighting Illini also received double-digit scoring efforts from Mark Smith (13 points), Michael Finke (12 points) and Aaron Jordan (10 points).
“I’m proud of these guys,” Skyhawk head coach Anthony Stewart said. “We fought all the way until the end, we told our guys the game wasn’t over. We beat ourselves in the last three minutes of the first half and had to play from behind. Everybody stepped up in the second half and we competed better with our toughness. Illinois is a really good team – this was Big Ten basketball and we competed with them. We figured out how to get back in the game but it was just a little too late.”
Both sides started out slow offensively, combining to miss the first five shots of the game before Black scored back-to-back buckets to give the Fighting Illini a 4-0 lead. The Skyhawks answered right back with a 7-0 run, capped off by a Kahari Beaufort finger-roll layup on a fast break at the 14:36 mark.
Illinois followed with the next six points of the game but a Bogan trifecta from the right corner tilted the score back in UT Martin’s favor at 12-10. The Fighting Illini responded with the next eight points of the contest, taking a six-point lead with 8:45 remaining in the first half.
Baskets by Terrence Parker, Williams and Bogan on three straight possessions helped the Skyhawks trim their deficit to 25-22 with 5:50 to go in the opening half. However, Illinois scored nine of the next 11 points and used that momentum to claim a 44-29 advantage at the break.
Bogan’s 11 points off the bench paced UT Martin in the first half but the Skyhawks were hampered by 11 turnovers. Black guided the Fighting Illini with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting as Illinois shot 55.2 percent (16-of-29) in the first 20 minutes.
The Fighting Illini scored the first four points of the second half before a layup by Lewis halted Illinois’ momentum. Williams converted a tough reverse layup at the 17:49 mark to cut into the Fighting Illini lead.
UT Martin then got back in the game thanks to a 14-0 run over a stretch of 3:46. The backcourt duo of Butler and Bogan did most of the damage during the spurt, as each poured in six points apiece. Butler’s trey with 13:19 left to play completed the run and resulted in a 51-47 Skyhawk deficit.
Following a Parker layup off an inbounds play, Illinois reeled off an 8-0 run to go on top by a 65-51 margin at the 7:34 mark. Williams scored five straight points for UT Martin at one point but the Fighting Illini were able to push their lead out to 16 points at 74-58.
However, the Skyhawks kept battling and gave themselves a chance to send the game into overtime. UT Martin ended the game on a 16-3 run, as five different Skyhawks chipped in points. Williams and Bogan scored on strong takes to the hoop before Butler knocked in a pair of triples. Darius Thompson and Williams each sank two free throws and after Fatodd Lewis scored on a loose ball lay-in, UT Martin trailed by only a 77-74 margin with 41 seconds left.
The Skyhawks forced a turnover on Illinois’ ensuing possession and Butler got a clean deep look to tie the game but his shot caromed off the rim and landed out of bounds off Illinois. With 0.9 seconds left, Butler received a pass and hoisted a prayer but the Fighting Illinois were able to escape with the win.
UT Martin’s next game is the 2017-18 home opener, as the Skyhawks host North Carolina Central on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Tipoff from the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center is set for 7 p.m.