BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team dominated from start to finish in an 89-73 road victory over Samford at the Pete Hanna Center.
Despite starting forward Javier Martinez not making the trip because of sickness, the Skyhawks (3-8) never trailed for the entire contest. UT Martin had six players crack double-figures in the scoring column while scorching the nets for a season-best 60.4 percent shooting effort (including 63.6 percent from three-point range) which also included a season-high 20 assists.
Mike Liabo poured in a team-high 16 points off the bench while Terence Smith added 13 points and a team-high six assists. Myles Taylor scored all of his 13 points in the second half while Bobby Jones canned three trifectas on his way to 11 points in 10 minutes off the bench. Marshun Newell (10 points, four assists, two steals) and Dee Oldham (10 points, six rebounds, career-high four steals) also set the tone for the Skyhawks. Justin Childs had eight points to go along with season-highs of seven rebounds and three assists for UT Martin, who won the rebounding battle by a 30-29 margin.
Samford (3-7) was led by Tim Williams’ 20 points. Raijon Kelly (12 points), Isaiah Williams (11) and Russell Wilson (11) also paced the Bulldogs, who were held to 20 percent shooting (3-for-15) from beyond the three-point arc and were forced into 14 turnovers.
“I think the hardest thing to guard in basketball is balance,” Skyhawk head coach Jason James said. “When we are executing, sharing the ball and guys making shots at the end of our execution tonight, it’s a fun thing to watch. I think we are potent offensively and we showed that tonight. We took good shots and everybody got a piece of the pie. That balance was so crucial for us – everybody answered the bell and I am so proud of them.”
The Skyhawks came out rolling early, scoring the game’s first six points while jumping out to a 10-4 advantage through the first four minutes. Birmingham native Tobias Dowdell played a big role in UT Martin’s quick start, as he tallied six points and three rebounds in the first five minutes.
Samford would get within two points at 17-15 with 10:22 to go in the first half before Jones went on a scoring streak. The senior out of Memphis scored eight straight points for UT Martin to help give the Skyhawks their first double-digit lead (25-15) with less than nine minutes to play before the halftime break.
The Bulldogs got within three points at the 6:33 mark but Newell ran off six straight points to push UT Martin’s lead back out. A pair of Oldham free throws and fast break layup by Childs gave the Skyhawks a 43-32 advantage at the halftime break.
The 43 points were a season-best first half scoring output for UT Martin, as eight players scored in the first 20 minutes. Newell and Jones were each responsible for eight points to lead the Skyhawks while Williams’ nine points led Samford.
Samford scored the first four points of the second half but Smith sank four free throws to push UT Martin’s lead back out to 11. The Bulldogs cut the Skyhawks lead to four points with 14:47 remaining but a key 8-0 run – capped off with five straight points off the hand of Liabo – gave UT Martin a 60-52 lead with 12:41 left to play.
After Samford crept within seven points, an old-fashioned three-point play by Taylor gave the Skyhawks a 67-57 cushion with 9:33 to go. The Bulldogs would sneak back within eight after their next possession but Liabo came right back with a layup to push the Skyhawk advantage back out to double-figures.
The Skyhawks would hold a double-digit lead for the final 9:15. A Jones three-pointer and Taylor layup on back-to-back possessions provided UT Martin with its biggest lead of the night (87-69) with 2:15 left to play before the Skyhawks pulled away with the 16-point victory.
UT Martin returns home on Saturday, Dec. 7 to take on the Northern Kentucky Norse out of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Tip-off from the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center is scheduled for 4 p.m.