Sizzling UTM in tourney talk

Sizzling UTM in tourney talk
CHARLESTON, Ill. — If the regular season ended now, the UT Martin men’s team would be in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.
The Skyhawk men scored the first 14 points of the game on Tuesday, setting the tone for a 73-54 victory over the Eastern Illinois Lantz Arena.
With the win, UTM improves to 10-18 but, more importantly, 5-11 in league play — taking over sole possession of eighth place and moving a half-game back of seventh place.
The top eight teams in the league advance to the OVC Tournament at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville on March 2-5.
“The key to our team is getting off to a good start and we definitely did that tonight,” Skyhawk head coach Jason James said. “We came out prepared and mentally focused and that made all the difference in the world. We needed to be at our best tonight and we definitely were from the opening tip to the final buzzer. The guys embraced the situation and came out with a sense of urgency.”
Freshman Mike Liabo led UT Martin with a career-best 21 points. UTM’s Troy King scored 13 points, as did Reuben Clayton, who also added a career-best six steals in 39 minutes for the Skyhawks.
Benzor Simmons also pulled down 10 rebounds for UT Martin, which held the Panthers to 35.1 percent shooting and made 19 consecutive free throws to end the game (making 19-of-20 overall).
Jeremy Granger’s 16 points led Eastern Illinois (8-18, 4-12), while Curry McKinney scored all of his 13 points in the second half for the Panthers.
The Skyhawks scored 14 unanswered points over the first 4:21 of the contest. After Shaun Pratl scored on a turnaround in the lane, Liabo hit back-to-back long three-pointers in a span of 30 seconds to put UT Martin on top 20-2 at the 14:14 mark.
Eastern Illinois briefly recovered to score five of the next seven points, but Terence Smith scored five straight points to put the Skyhawks ahead by 20 points at the 12:21 mark.
The Panthers would not get back within 16 points the rest of the first half.
UT Martin will now step out of OVC play for a Sears ESPN Bracketbuster game on Saturday at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.
The Skyhawks will start their season-ending three-game homestand by playing host to Bradley of the Missouri Valley Conference at 2 p.m.

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