|UTM men hang on for third consecutive win, put an end to Lantz Arena jinx |
CHARLESTON, Ill. — The UT Martin Skyhawks survived a tale of two halves to claim a 69-63 Ohio Valley Conference victory over host Eastern Illinois Thursday night in Lantz Arena.
Junior Lester Hudson scored 29 points and had 10 rebounds, while sophomore Joe Bailey came off the bench to can five 3-pointers and net 15 points in the win.
“Joe Bailey was a huge plus off the bench for us,” Bret Campbell, the Skyhawks head coach, said. “He’s been shooting the ball extremely well. When he can come in and give us those kinds of numbers it makes this team a lot better.”
With the win, the Skyhawks are 4-3 in the OVC and 8-9 on the year. The Skyhawks have won three consecutive games for the first time since the 2005-06 season and they won in Lantz Arena for the first time since 2002.
“It seems like we’ve been jinxed over the last few years not being able to pull out a W here,” Campbell said. The win was the second consecutive road victory for the Skyhawks. UT Martin claimed a 75-74 victory over Tennessee State Monday night in Nashville.
“Any time you can put two wins together, especially on the road, it’s a huge plus for your program and it’s a confidence builder for your basketball team,” Campbell said.
Both road wins were decided in the final seconds of the game. At TSU, Hudson hit a pair of free throws with one second left on the clock for the win. Tonight at Lantz, the Skyhawks had to hold off an upstart EIU team.
“Coach Miller’s team plays extremely hard. They beat Murray State a week ago, and they are a team that is just not going to give up. They certainly hung in there tonight and fought.”
Hudson ignited the Skyhawks in the first half with 20 points and nine rebounds. Bailey had two of his five 3-pointers in the first half. The Skyhawks led 38-20 at halftime.
“I think we probably played the best 20 minutes of basketball in the first half,” Campbell said. “We shot the ball extremely well. Any time you hold a team to 20 points, especially on the road, that’s a very solid performance on the defensive end.”
The Skyhawks shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and 46 percent from 3-point range.
The second half was a different story. Bailey hit a 3-pointer with 10:11 to play and gave the Skyhawks a 57-40 advantage. And then Eastern Illinois used a 14-7 run to cut the Skyhawks lead to three-points with 34 seconds left in the game.
“The second half was a tale of two halves,” Campbell said. “I thought they dominated the last 15 minutes of the game. We still have to learn how to play with the lead. This team needs to learn how to finish games and complete games.”
Marquis Weddle and Sam Pearson hit three free throws in the final 30 seconds and the Skyhawks escaped Lantz Arena with the win.
One of the reasons the Skyhawks staggered in the second half was because Hudson banged his knee against an EIU defender and suffered from a contusion.
“He (Hudson) gets hurt in the second half and it certainly slowed him down, but he still made a couple of big plays down the stretch,” Campbell said. “He is so critical for this team in so many ways.”
EIU’s effort was led by Julio Anthony and Jon’Tee Willhite. Both players scored 16 points each. Bobby Catchings added 14 points. EIU shot 17 percent from the field in the first half and 41 percent from the field in the second half. EIU out-scored the Skyhawks 43-31 in the second half.
“It’s hard to play without your top scorer (Romain Martin),” Campbell said. “He was playing hurt tonight and he was certainly not 100 percent.” Martin was 0-for-10 from the field and 0-for-8 from 3-point range. Martin injured his foot and missed the Panthers’ last two games.
The Skyhawks return to action Saturday when they host Morehead State in the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center. Tipoff for the nationally televised game on ESPNU is set for 2 p.m.
“Morehead State is playing very good basketball right now,” Campbell said.
“I hope we have a great crowd in Saturday afternoon. We don’t have an opportunity to have ESPN on our campus very often. I hope we take advantage of it.”