UTM men prep for tourney
Posted: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 12:02 am
SKYHAWKS FALL 77-64 TO MOREHEAD STATE IN REGULAR SEASON FINALE; WILL PLAY TSU IN FIRST ROUND OF OVC TOURNAMENT
MARTIN, Tenn. – Senior forward Benzor Simmons’ 18 points led four University of Tennessee at Martin double-figure scorers Saturday night, but Morehead State charged out of the halftime break to shoot 56 percent in the second half for a 77-64 win on Senior Night at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.
Following the conclusion of all Ohio Valley Conference games, the Skyhawks learned that they will take on Tennessee State as the No. 8 seed in the first round of the OVC Tournament on Wednesday at 6 p.m. UT Martin ends the regular season with an 11-20 record and 6-12 slate in league play.
Along with Simmons, freshmen Terence Smith (16 points), Mike Liabo (14) and Troy King (10) all cracked the double-digit scoring plateau against Morehead. Liabo also handed out a game-high five assists, setting a new career-high in that category as well.
Morehead State (22-9, 13-5) was paced by Kenneth Faried’s 24 points and 18 rebounds, while Terrance Hill scored 15 and Sam Goodman added 12 points off the bench for the Eagles.
“We played hard enough to win, we just weren’t always smart enough for the full 40 minutes,” Skyhawk head coach Jason James said. “I thought we shot the ball very well in the first half by taking good shots, but in the second half we missed a lot of those same shots.”
The night began with a tribute to UT Martin’s four seniors – Reuben Clayton, Andres Irarrazabal, Daron Hood and Simmons. The four were all part of the program’s first-ever OVC championship squad in 2008-09 and will set a new all-time Skyhawk record for most OVC Tournament game appearances in this week’s tournament.
Morehead State scored the first six and nine of the first 11 points of the game before Liabo sank a triple to make the score 13-7 with 15:15 to play in the first half. The Eagles then put together a 7-0 run to go ahead by 13 on a Faried jumper but the Skyhawks clawed back.
A Smith layup with 6:04 to play in the half ignited a 12-0 run over a span of 3:58, capped off by a thunderous contested one-handed slam by Clayton that gave UT Martin its first lead of the game at 28-26.
The Eagles briefly grabbed a lead that was sandwiched between ties at 28- and 31-all before a pair of Simmons free throws with 29 seconds left ended the scoring on both sides. UT Martin held a 33-31 advantage heading into the break.
Liabo had a game-high 11 points in the first half to lead the Skyhawks, who made five of their 11 3-point attempts (46 percent). Faried amassed 10 points and nine rebounds in the first half to lead Morehead State.
Consecutive inside buckets by Faried opened the second half before a layup from Simmons squared things up at 35-35. One more tie followed in the first four minutes of the half before Hill scored four straight points to put the Eagles ahead 41-37.
The teams then swapped points for most of the next five minutes, as the Skyhawks did not trail by more than five points at any time in that stretch. Two more free throws from Simmons sliced UT Martin’s deficit to two points with 9:39 to play, but turnovers in each of the next four possessions allowed Morehead State to unreel a 12-2 run and go ahead 60-48.
A layup by Faried with 5:05 left gave the Eagles their biggest lead of the night (65-50), but UT Martin didn’t go down lightly. The Skyhawks scored 11 of the game’s next 15 points to pull within eight when Liabo made a trey at the 2:21 mark.
However, Morehead State closed out the game by making a layup and all six of its free throw attempts inside two minutes left to play.
The Skyhawks will now focus on their seventh all-time OVC Tournament appearance, as they take on in-state rival Tennessee State at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville. The Skyhawks lost both games against the Tigers this season, but both contests were very competitive. UT Martin had a chance to go ahead twice in the final seconds of a 67-64 loss at home on Jan. 8, while the Skyhawks held a four-point halftime advantage in their game at Tennessee State on Feb. 5 before falling 56-47. Clayton’s 11.5 points per game average against the Tigers this season leads the Skyhawks, while Liabo (11.0 ppg) also averages double figures against Tennessee State.