Skyhawks’ inspired effort comes up just short at UT
Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 12:02 am
Memphis native Reuben “Ookie” Clayton tied a career high with five 3-pointers to lead the Skyhawks with 21 points in 29 minutes off the bench. Terence Smith poured in 10 points and added a game-high six assists for UT Martin (4-10), while Dane Smith pulled down a career-best 12 rebounds to go with nine points. Senior Benzor Simmons added nine points for the Skyhawks, who outrebounded Tennessee by a 35-30 margin.
The Volunteers (9-3) were paced by Scotty Hopson’s 17 points, while Tobias Harris chipped in with a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) off the bench. Tennessee used a 54.5 percent shooting half in the last 20 minutes to propel itself to the victory.
UT Martin head coach Jason James was proud of his team’s effort in a game that featured 12 ties and seven lead changes.
“A staple of our basketball program is that for 40 minutes we are going to battle, scratch and fight,” James said. “Tonight, for about 37 minutes I thought we performed. We took a big step from Monday (100-40 loss at No. 2 Ohio State) to here. I’m proud of those guys in that locker room — their effort for most of the game was good enough to win.”
James also was impressed with the play of Clayton, who came up two points shy of his career-best point total (23 against Centenary on Nov. 15) on the big stage.
“He came out ready to go. It was good to see the old ‘Ookie’ back. He was making shots and had a little pep to his step on the offensive end, which carried over to the defensive end. He was very active and made a couple big shots late in the second half.”
The Skyhawks held the lead for most of the first half, starting with a Troy King 12-foot jumper to give UT Martin its first lead at the 19:05 mark. Hopson then scored five consecutive points to give the Volunteers a 5-2 lead, but Terence Smith answered with a straightaway 3-pointer on the Skyhawks’ next possession to tie the game at 5-all.
After Tennessee’s Melvin Goins hit a 3-pointer at the 16:27 mark, the Skyhawks scored six unanswered points to take a lead they did not relinquish for the next 7:38 of clock time. Clayton scored six straight points for UT Martin on a pair of long 3-pointers, and a pull-up 15-foot jumper by Simmons with 10:11 to go in the first half gave UT Martin its biggest lead of the first half at 21-15.
Mike Liabo nailed a 3-pointer with 8:32 to go in the first half but then the Volunteers put together a 7-0 run to go ahead by two points. Tennessee extended its lead to four before the Skyhawks responded with a run as a Clayton 3-pointer from the right side late in the first half capped a 10-0 run. The stingy UT Martin defense held the Volunteers scoreless over a span of 3:13 until a dunk by Jordan McRae made the halftime score 36-32 in favor of the Skyhawks.
Clayton’s 11 points led UT Martin at the halftime break, and Dane Smith broke a career-high with eight rebounds in the first half alone. The Skyhawks shot a blistering 51.7 percent — including 46.2 percent from 3-point range — in the game’s first 20 minutes to create some separation. Hopson tallied a game-high 12 points to lead Tennessee at the half.
UT Martin held on to its lead for the first 3:24 of the second half until John Fields put back his own miss to even the score at 39-39. The Skyhawks came right back to score the game’s next five points, as an old-fashioned 3-point play from Dane Smith and a Clayton layup put UT Martin back ahead.
Hopson scored Tennessee’s next five points to tie the game once more at 44-all, but Simmons drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing at the 12:48 mark to gave the Skyhawks yet another lead.
The Volunteers then pieced together a 7-0 run over a stretch of 2:53 to go back on top by three points, but Clayton got hot again. The 6-3 senior sank treys on back-to-back possessions to launch UT Martin back on top, 55-53 with 5:25 remaining in the game. Tennessee followed that by taking a brief two-point lead before Clayton drew a foul and sank a pair of free throws for the game’s 11th tie at 57 apiece.
A Simmons free throw knotted the score once again just 41 seconds later, but Harris came up big for the Volunteers, scoring Tennessee’s next eight points over a stretch of 2:39. A pair of Goins free throws with four seconds left sealed the heartbreaking defeat for UT Martin.
The Skyhawks will return to the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center on Saturday for their first home game of the 2011 calendar year. UT Martin will entertain Tennessee State with tipoff set for 6 p.m.