James’ UTM defense sermon ‘rallies’ troops for clutch run

James’ UTM defense sermon ‘rallies’ troops for clutch run
NASHVILLE — UT Martin head coach Jason James has always preached the importance of defense.
His upstart Skyhawks took his sermon to heart on Wednesday in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament at Municipal Auditorium.
The Skyhawks, the No. 8 seed in the eight-team tournament, overcame two 10-point deficits in the second half and rallied to claim a 68-64 victory over No. 5 seed Tennessee State.
With the triumph, UT Martin (12-20) will advance to the quarterfinals at 6 tonight where they will meet No. 4 seed Tennessee Tech (18-11).
“We talk about being tough,” James said. “There is a certain brand of basketball that we want to play and it starts with toughness.
“It starts with playing defense. When we needed to get stops, we got them. When we needed to be tough, we were tough.”
With 7:02 remaining in the game and trailing 59-52, the Skyhawks went on an 8-0 run to take the lead, 60-59, for the first time in the game.
Freshman Mike Liabo made a 3-pointer and a free throw with 4:31 to play and the Skyhawks led 60-59.
“I am not going to say it was the best shot Mike (Liabo) has ever taken. But over his years, we will learn to live with it,” James said after the win.  “I thought we were going good for him to make the shot and kind of get us over the hump.”
TSU’s Wil Peters made a jumper in the paint to regain the lead for the Tigers, but UT Martin freshman Terrence Smith answered with a jumper and the Skyhawks grabbed a 62-61 lead with 2:48 to play.
The Skyhawks didn’t relinquish the lead this time.
Smith made five points in the final 42 seconds and finished the contest with a team-best 20 points and eight rebounds.
With six seconds on the clock, Liabo sealed the victory with a free throw. Liabo scored 12 points in the game.
“It all started with defense,” Liabo said. “We just kept fighting, kept it close and I knew if we kept it close we’d be there at the end.”
Reubben Calyton was also key to UTM’s cause with 12 ponts, while Andres Irarrazabal offered 10 and Benzor Simmons totaled seven.
Despite shooting 29 percent from the field and missing 10 layups in the first half, the Skyhawks only trailed 29-26 at the game’s midpoint.
Kenny Moore led the charge for the Tigers in the first half with nine points, six rebounds and four assists.
He finished the game with 18 points and nine rebounds.
Patrick Miller and Peters added 11 points each for the Tigers, while Robert Covington tossed in 10 points.
The UT Martin women’s team is also set to play in the OVC Tournament this week.
The Skyhawk ladies are to play against a to be determined opponent on Friday at 2.
If the UTM women prevail in that contest, they will play on Saturday in the league’s championship contest.

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