NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team advanced to its second consecutive Ohio Valley Conference Basketball Championship title game after defeating rival Murray State 73-67 in the tournament semifinals on Friday night. The Skyhawks advance to play No. 4 seed Jacksonville State in the title contest on Saturday night at 7 p.m.
The No. 2 seeded Skyhawks (21-11) took advantage of the team’s double-bye into the semifinals by turning up the intensity against the Racers who were playing their third game in as many days. The squad trailed for just nine minutes in the contest after shooting 51 percent and forcing Murray State into 15 turnovers. The win marked the first time UT Martin had defeated Murray State in the OVC Basketball Championship while winning the season series for the first time in program history.
UT Martin was led in scoring by placing three different players in double figures. Junior Matthew Butler led the squad with 17 points on the night while Kedar Edwards tossed in 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Sophomore Fatodd Lewis also scored 10 valuable points off the bench to round out the trio.
“I want to take my hat off to a well-coached Murray State team,” said UT Martin head coach Anthony Stewart. “They were a tough opponent tonight. They gave us everything they could. I am proud of my guys and proud of my team. They really came together through some real adversity to achieve this win.”
Murray State (16-17) closed out its season by placing four players in double figures. Terrell Miller notched a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds while Bryce Jones tossed in 15 points on the night. Jonathan Stark and Gee McGhee also chipped in 11 points each to round out the quartet in double figures. Stark finished the tournament with 89 points over the course of three games.
Despite giving up the first basket of the game, UT Martin would respond quickly in the opening minutes of the first half. A layup by Butler followed by five points from Edwards – including a dunk just 90 seconds into the game - would cap off a 7-0 run and give the Skyhawks an early five-point advantage. The Skyhawks would ultimately push their margin out to as high as seven points following a trifecta by Kahari Beaufort before the Racers started their comeback attempt.
Trailing by seven points just over six minutes into the contest, Murray State would charge back with a 10-0 run of its own. The Racers would not only wipe out the team’s deficit but convert the run into a three-point lead following a basket by Jerami Grace with just under 10 minutes to play.
After the big swing in momentum the first half would feature a total of four ties and eight lead changes – including six in the final 10 minutes of the half alone. The Racers would ultimately take a 36-34 lead into the intermission following a layup by Miller with 46 seconds to play.
Much like the first half it was Murray State who would get on the board first but UT Martin would answer right back. Trailing by their biggest deficit of the contest, the Skyhawks erased the four-point margin by going on a 7-0 run capped off by a teardrop jumper by Butler to give the squad a three-point lead and force the Racers into calling a timeout with 17:04 to play.
UT Martin would push its lead out to five points with just under 13 minutes to play following a three-pointer by Lewis right before the media timeout. Following a later jumper by Butler, the Skyhawks would ride a scoreless streak which stretched almost three minutes, watching the team’s lead dwindle down to two points before a trifecta by Lewis once again broke the drought and pushed the lead back to two possessions with eight minutes to play.
The Skyhawks would build upon their lead down the stretch, pushing it out to 10 points with just over five minutes to play following a three-pointer by Jacolby Mobley and a jumper by Lewis forcing the Racers to call a timeout. Murray State would trim the margin down to just four points in the final three minutes, but a layup by Chandler Rowe would shift the momentum back in the direction of the Skyhawks by giving the squad a six-point lead in the final two minutes.
Murray State would trim the margin to as close as two points with 40 seconds to play, but UT Martin would hold tight down the stretch to pick up the 73-67 victory.
UT Martin will return to action in the OVC Basketball Championship title game for the second straight year on Saturday, March 4 with a matchup against No. 4 seed Jacksonville State. Tipoff from Municipal Auditorium is scheduled for 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN2.