CHARLESTON, Ill. — UT Martin held a five-point halftime lead at Eastern Illinois, but the Panthers used a come-from-behind effort to tally a 69-56 win in their OVC men’s game Thursday night at Lantz Arena.
UT Martin (4-16, 1-7 Ohio Valley Conference) led by eight points early in the second half before Eastern Illinois began its run. The Skyhawks would trail by four points with five minutes to go but the Panthers made enough free throws down the stretch to claim the victory.
Myles Taylor tossed in 21 points — 17 in the second half — for his 11th career 20-plus point performance. Terence Smith also collected 13 points, seven assists (tying a career-high), six rebounds, two blocks and two steals for the Skyhawks, who won the turnover battle 14-13 this evening.
For Eastern Illinois (5-16, 2-6 OVC), Morris Woods snared a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds. Sherman Blanford added 15 points while Malcolm Herron (13 points) and Josh Piper (10) also reached double figures for the Panthers.
“We were attacking in the first half and were able to get out in transition, we just didn’t execute late down the stretch,” UT Martin head coach Jason James said. “We got just about every look we wanted, but we missed some easy baskets and open looks and missed our free throws.”
Taylor gave the Skyhawks the early advantage with a bucket just 10 seconds into the contest, but Eastern Illinois soon scored 13 unanswered points over the next 5:55 to take a 13-2 lead just over six minutes into the game.
After a tip-in by Justin Childs ended the Skyhawks’ scoreless drought, UT Martin responded with a 13-0 run of its own. Back-to-back treys by Mike Liabo capped off the run and as a result boosted the Skyhawks to a 17-15 lead with 8:14 to play in the first half.
The lead changed hands seven more times the rest of the first half, but UT Martin closed out the break on a tear from downtown. Back-to-back trifectas from Smith, along with a fast break 3-pointer by Bobby Jones resulted in the Skyhawks taking their biggest lead of the first half into the halftime break (32-27).
Liabo’s nine points led all scorers at the break, while Smith added eight points for the Skyhawks, who shot 63.6 percent from three-point range (7-for-11) in the first 20 minutes. Woods scored six points to lead Eastern Illinois at the half.
Taylor was responsible for UT Martin’s first 11 points to begin the second half, helping the Skyhawks build an eight-point advantage on two occasions. However, the Panthers put together a pair of 8-0 runs to go ahead by a 51-43 margin with 10:43 remaining.
The Skyhawks clawed within four points twice — as four straight points by Taylor sliced UT Martin’s deficit to 56-52 with five minutes left. However, the Skyhawks did not score again until a bucket inside by Taylor with 47 seconds remaining — ending a 7-0 Panther spurt.
Smith would add a layup 22 seconds later, but Eastern Illinois rounded out the game with a 4-for-4 performance at the free throw line in the final 22 seconds.
UT Martin returns to the hardwood Saturday at SIU Edwardsville. Tip-off time is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Published in The Messenger 1.25.13