Simmons eclipses 1,000 career point mark, sparks Skyhawks to comeback win over SIUE
Posted: Friday, January 28, 2011 12:02 am
EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Needing just nine points to become The University of Tennessee at Martin’s 15th member of the 1,000 point club, senior forward Benzor Simmons went off for a season-best 26 points tonight to facilitate a come-from-behind 78-69 victory against SIU Edwardsville at the Vadalabene Center.
Simmons made five of his 11 field goal attempts to lead UT Martin (8-14), who has won four straight games for the first time since Feb. 7 through Feb. 18, 2009. In addition to joining the 1,000 point club, the 6-5 Miami native nearly etched his name into another Skyhawk record tonight, as he made 16 of 18 free throws. He fell just shy of the all-time single-game mark for free throws made (17), set by Mitch Stentiford on Jan. 3, 1984.
As a team, UT Martin hit 30 of its 36 attempts (83.3 percent) from the charity stripe.
“After last game, we shot 59 percent from the free throw line and that’s unacceptable,” Skyhawk head coach Jason James said. “So we took some time the last two days and shot a lot of free throws and that really paid off tonight. I think that’s what won us the game.”
Reuben Clayton was the next highest scorer for the Skyhawks, as he poured in 16 points. Freshman Terence Smith also enjoyed a big night for UT Martin, as he accumulated 15 points and team-highs of nine rebounds and four assists. After not scoring in his previous nine games played, Chris Richardson set a new career-high with eight points in 16 tonights for the Skyhawks.
Cornelius Chatt’s 20 points led the Cougars, as he and Corey Wickware (11 points) were the only SIU Edwardsville players to reach double-figures in the scoring column. Dobrivoje Mavrak pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds for SIU Edwardsville, who were forced into 21 turnovers by the ferocious Skyhawk defense.
“It wasn’t pretty tonight but we’ll take it,” James said.
“A lot of times as a team that’s growing up, you’re going to have to win ugly games. We expect to win and in the first half, we did not play like we wanted to win but we did in the second half.”
The Skyhawks came out on fire, scoring the first seven points of the game, holding SIU Edwardsville scoreless for the first 3:16. The Cougars recovered to tally an 8-0 run over the next 2:38 to take a one-point advantage.
The lead swayed back-and-forth over the next 4:01 until SIU Edwardsville pieced together another run – this time scoring eight unanswered over a span of 3:07 to take a 23-16 lead at the 7:22 mark. SIU Edwardsville extended its lead out to eight points on two different occasions before the Skyhawks got back in the game at the charity stripe.
UT Martin nailed six consecutive free throws in a span of 58 seconds to slice its deficit to two points with 4:22 to play in the half.
The Skyhawks couldn’t get any closer for the remainder of the half, as SIU Edwardsville claimed a 36-30 lead before a Richardson drive to the hoop with 47 seconds left closed out the scoring in the first half.
UT Martin – boosted by a 13-for-13 effort at the free throw line – was led by Simmons’ 12 points at the break, while Clayton added nine.
Wickware’s nine points paced the Cougars at the half.
An old-fashioned three-point play by Smith got things started for the Skyhawks in the second half, getting UT Martin back within a point at 36-35. Less than 90 seconds later, however, the Cougars extended their lead out to six points. Back-to-back inside buckets by Clayton and Troy King made the score 43-41, and a backdoor layup by Simmons got the Skyhawks back within one at 46-45 with 13:12 remaining.
Consecutive baskets by Chatt once again shot SIU Edwardsville’s lead back out to six, but the Skyhawks once again crept closer by sinking free throws. UT Martin was able to slice its deficit to 55-54 before finally breaking through. A Simmons free throw at the 6:05 mark gave the Skyhawks their first lead in the game since 10:03 to go in the first half, but Chatt responded with a drive to the hoop on the Cougars’ next possession to tilt the lead back in their favor, 61-60.
Four more free throws in four attempts handed the Skyhawks a three-point advantage with 4:55 to play. Smith then took over, scoring six straight points over a stretch of 1:21 to make the score 68-64 in UT Martin’s favor with 3:34 remaining. The Cougars got back within one point with 2:45 left, but that would ultimately be as close as they would get the rest of the way.
After the Skyhawk lead was at three points, Simmons converted a huge open layup at the 1:05 mark to put the Skyhawks up 74-69.
UT Martin then closed out the game by hitting four of its six free throws down the stretch.
UT Martin returns to Ohio Valley Conference play on Saturday, Jan. 29, when it takes the short trip to the CFSB Center to take on the Murray State Racers at 7:30 p.m.