JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team led for a majority of tonight’s contest at Jacksonville State but could not hold on as the Gamecocks escaped with a 70-65 win in both teams’ Ohio Valley Conference opener at the Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Junior transfer Marshun Newell led the Skyhawks in scoring for the third time this season, pouring in a career-best 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting. The Memphis, Tenn. native also added six rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench this evening.
Terence Smith compiled 14 points and team-highs of seven rebounds and four assists for UT Martin (5-11, 0-1 OVC). Myles Taylor added 12 points and six boards to round out the double-digit scorers for the Skyhawks.
For Jacksonville State (7-9, 1-0 OVC), Darion Rackley scored 22 points while Brian Williams added 16 points. Nick Cook tallied 10 points for the Gamecocks, who were limited to 43.4 percent shooting overall and 27.3 percent shooting from beyond the three-point arc.
“The game came down to a couple of possessions late – we weren’t able to get stops and Jacksonville State was able to score,” UT Martin head coach Jason James said. “I thought we guarded okay for the game but they made big shots late. Each basketball game comes down to about five possessions – we had opportunities to tie or go ahead and we’d turn it over or miss a free throw. You have to make winning happen and I don’t know if we made it happen enough late in the game.”
A pair of Mike Liabo free throws at the 17:25 mark of the first half put the Skyhawks on the scoreboard and also gave UT Martin its first lead of the contest. Jacksonville State would use a 6-0 run to go on top by a 9-5 margin but five straight points by Newell sliced UT Martin’s deficit to 11-10 with 14 minutes to play before the halftime break.
The Gamecocks would take a six-point lead at the 11:16 mark of the first half but UT Martin answered with a lengthy run. The Skyhawks outscored Jacksonville State by a 17-6 margin over a span of 5:47 to open up a 28-23 lead with five minutes remaining in the first half. Bobby Jones was a key component of the Skyhawk run – as he drained a pair of three-pointers sandwiched around an old-fashioned three-point play by Dee Oldham – to give UT Martin a 22-20 lead.
After Jacksonville State closed within three points at the 3:34 mark, UT Martin responded by unreeling a 9-2 run courtesy of baskets by four different Skyhawks. The run resulted in a double-digit lead for UT Martin until it settled for a 37-29 advantage at the break.
Newell’s 11 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting led all scorers in the first 20 minutes. Cook had eight points to lead Jacksonville State, who was limited to 23 percent shooting (3-for-13) in the final 12 minutes of the first half.
A Taylor three-pointer and pair of Smith free throws extended the Skyhawk lead out to 42-31 with 18:29 left to play. Jacksonville State would then score eight unanswered points to get back within a single possession at the 14:29 mark.
Newell then accounted for four straight points and after an old-fashioned three-point play by Taylor, UT Martin led 49-41 with 9:22 remaining in the contest.
However, the Gamecocks would go on a 12-2 run – keyed by back-to-back three-pointers by Rackley – to take their first lead (53-51) in 14:41 of clock time.
Six lead changes then took place over the next 1:15 as both teams swapped free throws. Jacksonville State held a narrow 61-60 lead until Williams hit a three-pointer with 1:01 remaining to make the score 64-60. Newell charged right back with a bucket just eight seconds later to get UT Martin back within two points.
Teraes Clemmons then hit a pull-up jumper with 19 seconds left but the Skyhawks trimmed their deficit to 66-65 when Smith knocked down a pull-up trey with nine seconds remaining. One second later, Undra Mitchem hit a pair of free throws to give the Gamecocks a 68-65 advantage.
On the ensuing possession, UT Martin would try for a game-tying three-pointer but Williams came up with a strip and followed up with a dunk as time expired.
UT Martin opens the 2014 calendar year with a Thursday, Jan. 2 matchup at in-state OVC rival Austin Peay. Tipoff from the Dunn Center is scheduled for 7 p.m.