KENNESAW, Ga. — Myles Taylor poured in a career-best 31 points for UT Martin to lead all scorers, but it was Khristian Taylor who made the biggest shot of the game — a free throw with 2.9 seconds left in overtime that wound up being the difference in a 76-75 Skyhawk victory over Kennesaw State at the KSU Convocation Center.
UTM snapped a 15-game losing streak and will next visit Southeastern Louisiana in the Sears ESPN BracketBuster game Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Skyhawks (4-24) battled back from a six-point halftime deficit to lead by as many as seven points in the second half. However, Kennesaw State charged back to take the lead late in regulation before UT Martin forced overtime.
In the extra period, the Skyhawks had to fight back from a pair of three-point deficits before Khristian Taylor became the hero.
Stepping up with 21 huge minutes off the bench in the absence of UT Martin’s fourth-leading scorer Troy King (stomach illness), he drove down the left side and got fouled with the score tied at 75-all and 2.9 seconds left on the clock. He calmly rattled in the second of two free throws for his fifth point of the game to go along with three rebounds and a career-high three steals.
“We always talk about guys being ready to answer the bell,” UT Martin head coach Jason James said. “Khristian’s number was called tonight because we were a man down and he played with a lot of energy in the first half. In the second half, he was real good defensively for us. He stepped to the line in overtime and we were very fortunate he was ready for the moment.”
In what has been nothing short of a spectacular season for Myles Taylor, this performance was his best. He made nine of his 17 field goal attempts and pulled down eight rebounds in 31 minutes. After missing his first free throw attempt of the game, he calmly stroked 13 straight from the charity stripe. In the last three games, Taylor is shooting a red-hot 94 percent (33-for-35) from the free throw line.
“Myles was able to make a lot of quick moves early, finish some shots and then he got into the rhythm of the game and that’s huge for him,” James said. “He’s hard to guard but when he’s feeling good and moving real well, he’s super tough.”
Mike Liabo (11 points) and Jeremy Washington (10) also cracked double-figures for the Skyhawks, while Dane Smith registered nine points and nine rebounds. UT Martin outrebounded its opponent for the 11th time this season, pulling down 41 boards (14 offense) to Kennesaw State’s 30.
The Owls were led by Spencer Dixon’s 20 points, while Delbert Love and Aaron Anderson added 17 and 13 points, respectively.
Myles Taylor got the Skyhawks going early, tallying UT Martin’s first five points of the game in a span of 1:06. Kennesaw State would later score seven unanswered to take a 17-9 lead at the 14:17 mark until two more buckets from Taylor momentarily stopped the Owls’ run.
An old-fashioned 3-point play by Myles Taylor at the 11:39 mark got the Skyhawks within six at 21-15. However, Kennesaw State would stretch its lead out to nine until UT Martin received a lift from Khristian Taylor off the bench. Once he checked in, he immediately contributed by sinking two straight baskets to slice the Skyhawk deficit back down to five.
A little over two minutes later, Khristian Taylor came up with a steal and fed Myles Taylor, who was fouled and made a pair of free throws to make the score 28-25 at the 5:30 mark. Two more Myles Taylor free throws later and the Skyhawks trailed by just a single point (28-27) with 4:21 to play before the break.
UT Martin stayed within a single possession until the Owls closed out the half strong, despite five consecutive points by Liabo. Myles Taylor’s 18 points were a game-high for the Skyhawks in the first half, while Dixon scored 13 points to lead Kennesaw State.
Myles Taylor keyed a blazing start to the second half for the Skyhawks, scoring two field goals in the first 56 seconds. After Kennesaw State made a layup, Liabo buried a three-pointer at the 18:37 mark that cut UT Martin’s deficit to 44-43.
A Corderio Maclin putback with 16:11 to go evened the score at 47-all and, just over a minute later, Liabo gave the Skyhawks their first lead of the game with a layup that made the score 49-48. That ignited a crucial stretch for UT Martin, which extended its lead out to five by holding Kennesaw State scoreless for nearly three minutes.
A pair of free throws by Myles Taylor at the 11:01 mark put the Skyhawks on top by a 57-50 margin, their biggest advantage of the evening. UT Martin would lead by seven midway through the second half before an 8-2 Kennesaw State run pulled the Owls within a point with just under seven minutes left.
Dixon converted a layup at the 5:51 mark that tilted the advantage back in the Owls’ favor, but the Skyhawks battled back, tying the game at 68-68 on a 3-point play by Myles Taylor with 2:24 left to play. Kennesaw State would make a pair of free throws on its next possession, but a big jumper by Washington in the paint tied the game at 70-70 with 1:08 to go.
Smith then came up big, snaring a defensive rebound off a Kennesaw State miss and swiping a steal with 16 seconds left, ensuring the game would head into overtime.
A Dixon three-pointer opened up the overtime period, but Myles Taylor answered with a layup just 21 seconds later. A layup by Love pushed Kennesaw State’s lead back out to 75-72 with 2:32 to go, but that would be the last points the Skyhawks would concede the rest of the way. Liabo sank a free throw, followed by two clutch free throws by Omari Minor to tie the game at 75-all with 1:46 remaining.
Two more empty possessions by Kennesaw State set up Khristian Taylor’s heroics, but UT Martin still had to sweat it out at the end. The Owls had to inbound the ball and go the full length of the floor down by one point with 2.9 seconds left. Dixon got off a clean look from 18 feet, but the ball caromed off the left side of the rim.
Published in The Messenger 2.15.12