MARTIN, Tenn. – Mike Liabo led four University of Tennessee at Martin players in double-figures this evening as the Skyhawks never trailed in a 92-58 victory over Lyon College at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.
Cracking the starting lineup for the first time since the season-opener at Arkansas-Little Rock, Liabo poured in a season-high 25 points in 25 minutes this evening thanks to a career-high five 3-pointers. Overall, the junior from Naples, Fla. sank nine of his 17 shot attempts to go along with three assists, two rebounds and a steal.
Justin Childs tallied 14 points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists, while Tobias Dowdell (career-best 13 points and four steals) and Bobby Jones (13 points, three 3-pointers) also reached double-digits in the scoring column. UT Martin also received a career-high eight assists, six assists and four steals out of freshman Dee Oldham in his first career start tonight.
The Skyhawks (2-3) amassed season-highs in three-pointers (nine), assists (26), steals (17) this evening while forcing Lyon into 24 turnovers. UT Martin led 48-28 at the half thanks to a 60 percent shooting effort (18-for-30) in the game’s first 20 minutes.
Lyon College – an NAIA school out of Batesville, Ark. – was led by Kendall Leeks’ 11 points off the bench.
All 11 UT Martin players who were dressed out contributed to the Skyhawk victory this evening.
“We wanted to play a lot of guys tonight,” UT Martin head coach Jason James said. “We tell our guys all the time when you go in the game – even if you’re not scoring – it’s an audition. You’re being evaluated – you can earn minutes at that point in the game. You need to play hard, like it’s the first five minutes instead of the last five minutes of the game. And for the most part, I thought we did that.”
Childs got the Skyhawks off to a great start – accounting for the first five UT Martin points. The duo of Liabo and Myles Taylor then combined to score each of the Skyhawks’ next 11 points, allowing UT Martin to build a 16-7 lead with 13:27 to go in the first half.
An 8-0 Skyhawk run resulted in the first double-digit lead for the Skyhawks (24-11) at the 9:34 mark. Lyon College got within seven points before back-to-back trifectas by Liabo and Childs pushed UT Martin’s lead back out to 11 with just under seven minutes remaining in the half.
A layup by Liabo at the 2:12 mark ignited an 11-2 Skyhawk run to close out the half, capped off by an emphatic buzzer-beating dunk by Dowdell that gave UT Martin a 20-point edge.
Liabo (17 points) and Childs (12) paced the Skyhawks at the break, while Rickey Thomas compiled seven points to lead the Scots.
Lyon College was responsible for the first two points of the second half before UT Martin quickly piled on seven unanswered point to lead 55-30 after a Jones trey at the 15:20 mark. That began a series of seven straight points by Jones, followed by an old-fashioned three-point play by Dowdell to make the score 65-34 with 12:36 remaining.
The Scots followed with a 9-2 run but another Jones trifecta pushed the Skyhawk advantage back out to 27 midway through the second half.
Lyon College would not get any closer than 23 points the rest of the way, as Liabo scored eight straight points in a span of 1:01 shortly thereafter to help put the game away. A layup by Pierre Mopo with 25 seconds left to play gave UT Martin its biggest lead of the night at 92-56.
The Skyhawks will take some time off for the Thanksgiving holiday before returning to the court on Saturday, Nov. 24 when they travel to Bradley. Tip-off time from Peoria, Ill. is scheduled for 1 p.m.