CHARLESTON, Ill. – The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team built a 13-point lead late in the first half at Eastern Illinois tonight, but second half shooting woes cost the Skyhawks in a 91-79 loss at Lantz Arena.
It was a tale of two halves for UT Martin, as the Skyhawks connected on 69.6 percent (16-for-23) of its first half field goal attempts to take a 47-37 lead at halftime. However, the Skyhawks had only one field goal through the first 13 minutes of the second half and shot 26.9 percent (7-for-26) from the floor in the second half.
“We did a good job of picking up the pace a little bit in the first half,” UT Martin head coach Jason James said. “We were forcing turnovers and getting some confidence on the offensive end because of our defense. Eastern Illinois picked up their intensity in the second half and we were missing some of the same shots we were making in the first half.”
The Skyhawks were paced by Myles Taylor’s 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting (2-for-2 from three-point range) and a 5-for-5 performance from the charity stripe. Terence Smith added 14 points while Marshun Newell (12) and Dee Oldham (10) also reached double-figures in the scoring column for UT Martin (7-18, 2-9 Ohio Valley Conference).
Sherman Blanford scored 23 of his game-high 30 points in the second half for Eastern Illinois (9-14, 6-5 OVC). Dylan Chatman registered 17 points and a game-high nine rebounds while both Alex Austin and Josh Piper scored 11 points each for the Panthers, who shot 67.9 percent (19-for-28) in the final 20 minutes.
UT Martin began the game on a roll offensively, hitting nine of its first 11 shots through 10 minutes to take a 24-17 advantage. Taylor was a big catalyst early, draining a pair of three-pointers to go along with another long jumper to give him eight points in less than four minutes. Justin Childs also scored five straight points to give the Skyhawks a 16-14 lead they would not relinquish until the 10:41 mark of the second half.
A pair of Bobby Jones free throws at the 6:39 mark gave UT Martin a 29-20 lead but the Panthers closed their gap to two points (32-30) with 3:41 remaining before the halftime break. The Skyhawks answered right back with an 11-0 run, ignited by a scoring frenzy by Newell. The redshirt junior out of Memphis, Tenn. poured in 10 straight points in a span of 1:52 to give UT Martin its biggest lead of the night (45-32) with 54 seconds left in the first half.
Smith would add a pair of free throws to close out the Skyhawk scoring in the first half, as UT Martin carried a 47-37 lead into the locker room at the break.
Leading the Skyhawks in the first half was Smith, who went a perfect 4-for-4 (including 2-for-2 from three-point range) from the field and added a 2-for-2 effort at the free throw line to tally a game-high 12 points. Newell added 10 points for UT Martin, whose 47 points was only one point shy of the highest scoring first half of the season.
UT Martin kept a sizable lead in the early stages of the second half, leading by nine points (51-42) with 16:19 left to play. However, the Panthers quickly scored seven straight points to close within one possession at the 13:29 mark.
Taylor came right back with an old-fashioned three-point play to extend the Skyhawk lead to 54-49 but Eastern Illinois took a 56-55 advantage with 10:41 to play. Oldham would tilt the score back in UT Martin’s favor with a pair of free throws just eight seconds later.
The Panthers then scored 14 unanswered points over a span of 3:10 to take a 70-57 lead with a little over seven minutes remaining. UT Martin would slice its deficit to 10 points with 6:16 left to play but that was as close as the Skyhawks could not get within single-digits the rest of the way.
The Skyhawks’ next contest is set for Saturday, Feb. 8 when they travel to SIU Edwardsville. The game – which will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Midwest – is set to tip off at 8 p.m.