The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team led Ohio Valley Conference champion Murray State at halftime but ultimately fell by a 73-67 margin on Senior Night at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.
The Skyhawks (18-11, 10-6 OVC) have received a first round bye into the OVC Tournament quarterfinals and will enter the field as the No. 4 seed. UT Martin will officially make its 10th appearance in the league’s postseason tournament on Thursday, March 5 at 6 p.m. when it takes on the winner of the No. 5 Morehead State/No. 8 Southeast Missouri game that will take place on March 4.
Deville Smith cracked the 20-point plateau for the fifth time this season, scoring 21 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists. Twymond Howard added 17 points while Marshun Newell (eight points, team-high 10 rebounds) narrowly missed a double-double for UT Martin, who only committed eight turnovers tonight.
Murray State (26-4, 16-0 OVC) won its 24th straight game and became the fifth team in OVC history to go undefeated in league play thanks in large part to Cameron Payne, who registered 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Jarvis Williams tallied 15 points and 10 rebounds while Jeffery Moss also added 11 points for the Racers.
“We had our chances,” UT Martin head coach Heath Schroyer said. “I thought we played really well in the first half, especially sharing the ball. In the second half, we tried to do it ourselves at times and they did a nice job of getting us out of rhythm. Murray State is a very good basketball team and I give them a lot of credit.”
It was an emotional day from the start, as the Skyhawks honored the senior trio of Khristian Taylor, Smith and Newell for their career contributions during a pregame ceremony.
Howard helped carry UT Martin early, scoring four of the team’s first six points to give the Skyhawks a 6-5 advantage less than three minutes into the contest. The Racers came back with five unanswered points before Anderson knocked down a three-pointer from the left wing to slice UT Martin’s deficit to 10-9.
Murray State then scored seven unanswered points until Arkeem Joseph started a Skyhawk rally. He scored on two straight possessions to ignite an 11-0 run and tilt the score back in UT Martin’s favor. Newell buried a deep three-pointer and added a fast break layup off a steal to give the Skyhawks a 20-17 lead with 9:31 to play in the first half.
The Racers followed with a 7-0 run over the next 1:22, taking a 24-20 lead in the process. Nearly four minutes later, Richard Lee canned a trifecta from the left corner to even the score at 26-all.
Williams scored on a tip-in at the 2:15 mark but UT Martin concluded the half on an 8-3 run, as Howard and Smith each tallied four points during the spurt to give the Skyhawks a 34-31 advantage at the break.
Howard’s eight points paced UT Martin in the first half, helping the Skyhawks shoot an even 50 percent (14-for-28) from the floor. Payne registered 15 points in the first 20 minutes to lead Murray State, who shot 46.2 percent (12-for-26) in the first half.
After Murray State evened the score with a three-pointer to begin the second half, Howard answered right back with a trey of his own from the right corner to give UT Martin a 37-34 lead.
A pair of Javier Martinez free throws tied the game once again at 39-39 but the Racers reeled off seven unanswered points. Smith came away with a steal and a fast break pull-up three-pointer at the 14:18 mark to pull the Skyhawks within four points (46-42) but Murray State then tallied a quick 7-0 run to take a 53-42 edge at the 12:25 mark.
UT Martin followed with its own run, scoring seven of the next nine points to make it a six-point game (55-49) with 9:45 left to play. Payne answered with a three-pointer just 16 seconds later to make the score 58-49 in Murray State’s favor.
The Skyhawks then kept chipping away, thanks to Smith. The Jackson, Miss. native accounted for seven points in a row to help UT Martin get within one possession (64-62) with three minutes to play. However, Murray State scored five unanswered points to push its lead back out to seven point with 38 seconds left. Anderson sank a three-pointer seven seconds later but the Racers made their final four free throw attempts to seal the win.