CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team led for over 26 minutes of today’s game at Southeast Missouri, but the Skyhawks came up just short – falling 65-60 in the Ohio Valley Conference opener for both teams.
UT Martin (3-10, 0-1 OVC) began the game on a shooting tear, leading by as many as 15 points in the first half. Southeast Missouri (9-6, 1-0 OVC) did not take its first lead until nearly six minutes into the second half before escaping with the win.
Senior Jeremy Washington accumulated his first career double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) in 23 minutes to lead the Skyhawks. Myles Taylor also added 14 points, while Tobias Dowdell amassed nine points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench. The frontcourt trio helped UT Martin outrebound Southeast Missouri by a 46-40 margin.
A historic occasion took place midway through the first half, as Mike Liabo became the 16th UT Martin player to record 1,000 career points. The junior out of Naples, Fla. ended his evening with eight points.
Tonight also marked the return of redshirt sophomore Terence Smith, who tallied six points, three rebounds and an assist in 27 minutes off the bench for the Skyhawks. Smith had previously been sidelined since the Nov. 11 game at Cincinnati because of an ankle injury.
Tyler Stone scored 23 points to lead Southeast Missouri, who also received 15 points and 14 rebounds from Nino Johnson.
“We came out engaged and focused and that’s important for us,” UT Martin head coach Jason James said. “We were able to get out to a fast start then sputtered a little bit, but I thought we were ready to play from the opening tip. I didn’t think we were bad defensively, we just didn’t get enough stops in the second half. Good basketball is in us – now we just need to be more consistent.”
The Skyhawks started the contest on a roll, jumping out to a 9-0 lead through the first 2:30. UT Martin was able to take the early advantage thanks to a tenacious defensive effort that held Southeast Missouri without a field goal through the first 4:59.
A Dowdell layup off an inbounds play extended the Skyhawk lead out to 10 at the 12:55 mark of the first half. UT Martin would push its advantage out to 21-6 when Liabo canned a step-back three-pointer to reach his milestone with 9:32 remaining in the opening half.
Southeast Missouri would chip away until the game was tied at 27-all with 44 seconds left to play before the half. On UT Martin’s last possession of the first half, Dowdell converted a tough old-fashioned three-point play that resulted in a 30-27 Skyhawk lead at the break.
Dowdell (team-highs of nine points, eight rebounds) paced the Skyhawks in the first 20 minutes, scoring seven of UT Martin’s nine points to close out the half. Stone’s eight points led Southeast Missouri, who was held to 33 percent shooting (9-for-27) in the first half.
The Skyhawks led by five points in the early portion of the second half before Southeast Missouri evened the score at 34-all and 36-all. A pair of Liabo free throws at the 14:35 mark tilted the score back in UT Martin’s favor (38-36), but Southeast Missouri took its first lead of the game on the next possession with a three-pointer by Marland Smith.
However, UT Martin answered with a basket inside by Taylor to go back on top by a 40-39 margin. The Redhawks used a 6-0 spurt to go ahead by three points midway through the second half before back-to-back field goals by Washington gave UT Martin a 46-45 lead with 9:29 left to play.
Southeast Missouri reclaimed the lead on its next possession, but would lead by no more than three points until under four minutes to play. Two free throws by Washington at the 4:27 mark tied the score at 56-56.
Stone then scored seven straight points for the Redhawks, helping Southeast Missouri take a 63-58 lead with 2:23 to go. A basket inside by Taylor with 1:33 to play got UT Martin back within one possession at 63-60, but that would ultimately be the last points scored for the Skyhawks.
UT Martin returns to the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center in two days, starting a three-game homestand with a New Year’s Eve clash with Jacksonville State. The game – the nightcap of a men’s and women’s doubleheader – will begin at 4 p.m.