MURRAY, Ky. – The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team led for nearly 35 minutes tonight, leading by as many as 14 points in the first half before withstanding a late run to post a 69-68 victory over Murray State in the CFSB Center.
The Skyhawks (9-19, 5-10 Ohio Valley Conference) did not trail from the 12:22 mark of the first half until the conclusion of the game. UT Martin sank 83.3 percent of its free throw attempts (20-for-24), 50 percent of its three-pointers (7-for-14) and forced the Racers into 15 turnovers and a 25 percent performance from three-point range (5-for-20) on the way to the win.
Mike Liabo tossed in 20 points this evening for the Skyhawks – including a pair of clutch free throws with seven seconds left. It was the 12th time in his career that the Naples, Fla. scored 20 or more points in his career.
Myles Taylor added 15 points for UT Martin, who also received nine points, a team-high six rebounds and two steals out of Justin Childs. Terence Smith scored all nine of his points in the second half for the Skyhawks, who won in Murray for the first time in 23 tries tonight.
For Murray State (20-8, 10-5 OVC), Isaiah Canaan scored 31 points while Ed Daniel collected 19 points and 12 rebounds.
“We did a good job in the first half bothering them, contesting their shots and just making it tough on them,” UT Martin head coach Jason James said. “They’re too good of a team to stop playing. I’ve been coming here 11 years and seen a lot of good teams come in here and just not play well. Tonight we did away with that and came away with a big victory. I can’t say enough just how proud I am to be a Skyhawk.”
The Racers led through the first 3:14 before UT Martin posted a 9-0 run with Khristian Taylor accounting for four points during the span that gave the Skyhawks an 11-6 lead. Murray State responded with six unanswered to go on top 12-11, but the first career three-pointer by Tobias Dowdell at the 12:22 mark gave UT Martin a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the way.
Murray State got within one point at the 9:20 mark before back-to-back buckets by Liabo pushed the Skyhawk advantage out to 21-15. Back-to-back three-pointers by Dee Oldham and Liabo provided UT Martin’s biggest lead of the evening at 33-19 with 4:35 to play before the half.
The Skyhawks would hold a 36-27 lead at the break, keyed by 11 points by Liabo. Daniel and Canaan each had eight points to lead Murray State, who shot just 32.1 percent (9-for-28) from the field in the first 20 minutes.
A pair of free throws by Smith less than a minute into the second half gave UT Martin a 38-28 lead, but a 9-0 Murray State run provided the second tie of the game (40-40) with 14:46 to go.
The Skyhawks answered with four quick points and eventually pushed their lead out to eight thanks to consecutive field goals by Smith (three-pointer) and Childs (jumper in the paint) midway through the second half.
A jumper by Dowdell at the 8:47 mark provided a 55-47 UT Martin lead, but Murray State trimmed its deficit to one point a little over two minutes later. With the Skyhawks still holding on to a one point lead at the 5:09 mark, Myles Taylor came up with a huge three-point play to make the score 60-56.
UT Martin went on top by a 64-59 margin courtesy of a pair of free throws by Myles Taylor with 2:41 left to play. With the Skyhawks ahead by two with just over a minute to play, Liabo was fouled while hoisting up a three-pointer. The junior southpaw calmly stepped to the free throw line and nailed all three attempts to provide a 67-62 UT Martin advantage with 1:11 to go.
However, Murray State was responsible for the next four points to get within 67-66 with seven seconds left. That’s when Liabo swished two shots from the charity stripe to go on top 69-66. Two seconds later, the Skyhawks then fouled Canaan, who made a pair of free throws. After a pair of missed free throws on the other end, Canaan threw up a desperation 35-foot three-pointer at the buzzer but UT Martin freshman BJ McLaughlin got a hand up in his face and the shot rimmed off as time expired.
UT Martin concludes the regular season on Saturday, March 2 when it travels to Austin Peay. Tip-off from the Dunn Center is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The Skyhawks can qualify for the upcoming OVC Tournament with either a victory on Saturday or a SIU Edwardsville loss at Eastern Illinois.