The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team led for a majority of tonight’s game against defending Ohio Valley Conference champion Eastern Kentucky but the Colonels made enough plays down the stretch to hand the Skyhawks a 66-58 loss at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.
The lead changed hands seven times in the first six-plus minutes until UT Martin took a lead with 11:44 to go in the first half. That lead lasted until the 4:32 mark of the second half, as Corey Walden – last season’s OVC Tournament Most Valuable Player – scored 12 of his game-high 21 points in the second half to lead Eastern Kentucky to the win.
The Skyhawks (8-6, 0-1 OVC) were led by a career performance out of sophomore forward Javier Martinez. The 6-7, 210-pound native of St. Croix, Virgin Islands made all six of his field goal attempts and added five free throws in six attempts for a career-best 17 points to go along with eight rebounds in 35 minutes. Deville Smith added 12 points while Marshun Newell (11 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) had a great all-around performance for the Skyhawks, who had 19 assists on 20 made baskets tonight.
In addition to Walden, Eastern Kentucky (9-5, 1-0 OVC) was led by Denzel Richardson’s double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds. Timmy Knipp (14 points) and Eric Stutz (13 points) also reached double-figures in the scoring column for the Colonels, who shot 17.4 percent from three-point range (4-for-23) but committed only five turnovers.
“I give Eastern Kentucky a lot of credit,” UT Martin head coach Heath Schroyer said. “I thought we handled their pressure pretty well but it’s hard to win conference games not capitalizing on your free throws. This team is battling – we have a good team. I’m disappointed that we lost because we had a really good team on the ropes but Eastern Kentucky knows how to win close games. They’ve been there before and we’re just starting to get there.”
A Newell layup a little over a minute into the game put the Skyhawks on the scoreboard and also gave UT Martin its first lead of the contest. An old-fashioned three-point play by Twymond Howard at the 17:59 mark resulted in a 5-3 advantage for the Skyhawks.
A layup by Martinez with 13:56 left to play in the first half ignited an 11-3 Skyhawk run, as Martinez would account for six of UT Martin’s points during the scoring spurt.
The Skyhawks led by five points on two separate occasions before the Colonels evened the score at 18-all at the 7:46 mark. UT Martin was able to once again stretch its lead out to five points on two more occasions before the Colonels converted a three-pointer with under a minute to play in the half to make the halftime score 31-29 in favor of the Skyhawks.
Martinez was perfect from the field (3-for-3 shooting, 4-for-4 from the free throw line) at the break to lead all scorers with 10 points. Walden’s nine points guided Eastern Kentucky, who were limited to 16.7 percent shooting (3-for-18) from three-point range in the first 20 minutes.
UT Martin accounted for the first five points out of the locker room, as a trey by Smith and fast break jumper by Alex Anderson helped pad the Skyhawk lead out to 36-29 at the 18:25 mark.
Both teams went on a scoring drought early in the second half, as neither side would account for a field goal for a stretch of 3:21. Another Martinez layup and a three-pointer from the right side by Smith provided UT Martin with an eight-point lead (41-33) with 14:12 left to play.
Martinez converted layups on back-to-back possessions to make the score 45-38 with under 12 minutes to go but Eastern Kentucky would soon get within two points (51-49) with 7:22 remaining in the contest. Newell then answered with a three-pointer from the left wing on the next possession to push the Skyhawk lead back out to five points.
The Colonels used a 7-0 run to take their first lead since the 12:42 mark of the first half but Howard answered with a layup at the 4:06 mark to even the score at 56-56. Walden made a pair of free throws on Eastern Kentucky’s next possession but Smith responded with a backdoor layup to tie the contest at 58-all.
However, the Colonels concluded the game with eight unanswered points – six of which came from the charity stripe.
The Skyhawks round out a four-date homestand with a “White Out” game on Saturday, Jan. 10 against OVC rival Morehead State. Fans are invited to wear white for the contest, which is scheduled to tip off at 6 p.m. at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.