CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin basketball team fell behind early and couldn’t recover in a 91-58 loss to Austin Peay tonight at the Dunn Center. Despite the loss, the Skyhawks have qualified for the 2013 Ohio Valley Conference tournament, held on March 6-9 in Municipal Auditorium in downtown Nashville. UT Martin punched its ticket earlier on Saturday when Eastern Illinois defeated SIU Edwardsville.
UT Martin – making its second OVC Tournament appearance in the last three years and ninth appearance overall – will open the men’s portion of the OVC tournament, taking on Morehead State on Wednesday, March 6 at 6 p.m. Those two teams met once during the regular season, with the Eagles claiming an 88-74 win in Martin on Jan. 19.
“It’s huge for us to make the tournament,” UT Martin head coach Jason James said. “I’m happy for our guys to get the chance to play in Nashville. We had every opportunity to lay down but we are creating a culture of fight and positivity. The regular season is over – everybody is 0-0. We have to get better from today and we will do that.”
Junior guard Justin Childs poured in 20 points and snared a game-high seven rebounds tonight for the Skyhawks (9-20, 5-11 OVC), falling just one point shy of his career-high of 21 set against Arkansas State on Nov. 16, 2012. Mike Liabo (10 points) also reached double-figures for UT Martin, while Terence Smith tallied seven points to go along with four rebounds and three steals for the Skyhawks.
For Austin Peay (8-23, 4-12 OVC), Will Triggs scored 21 points, while Anthony Campbell and Chris Freeman each had 14 points. Chris Horton and Preston Herring also reached double-figures with 10 points apiece for the Governors.
“Austin Peay came out locked and loaded and we were a step slow,” James said. “We played a lot of players and we saw some different things from some guys tonight.”
Austin Peay couldn’t miss early, jumping out to a 16-0 lead through the game’s first seven-plus minutes until two straight stickbacks by BJ McLaughlin and a Justin Childs three-pointer made the score 20-7 midway through the first half.
The Governors then scores six unanswered until Mike Liabo responded with a pull-up three-pointer to pull UT Martin within 16 at the 6:12 mark. Austin Peay came back with five straight points until Liabo converted a layup and three-pointer on back-to-back possessions to make the score 31-15.
UT Martin would trail by 23 until Childs closed out the first half with a driving layup with under a minute to play, making the score 42-21.
Liabo’s eight points led the Skyhawks at the break, while Triggs scored 16 points to pace Austin Peay in the first half.
It was the Skyhawks who began the second half on a roll, making five of their first six shots. UT Martin scored six of the first eight points to slice its deficit to 44-27 with just under 17 minutes to play. A Tobias Dowdell layup at the 16:09 mark kept the margin at 17, but Austin Peay would soon go on a 15-4 run over a stretch of four minutes to go on top 68-37 midway through the second half.
Terence Smith canned a three-pointer and Dee Oldham scored on a spinning layup on back-to-back possessions to get the Skyhawks within 26, but the Governors answered with six straight points and UT Martin would not get any closer than 28 points the rest of the way – despite Childs scoring 10 of the Skyhawks’ final 16 points.