CLINTON, SC – Terence Smith scored the final five points for the University of Tennessee at Martin – including a clutch go-ahead three-pointer with 21 seconds remaining – to help the Skyhawks chalk up an impressive 73-70 comeback victory over Presbyterian College at the Templeton Center.
The Skyhawks (5-8) battled back from a 10-point deficit with 6:47 left in the game to post their third straight victory. UT Martin concluded the game on a 23-10 run and knocked down 12 three-pointers for the second time this season (the other occurrence coming at Florida State on Nov. 17).
A trio of Skyhawks cracked double-figures tonight, led by Mike Liabo’s game-high 20 points. The senior lefty out of Naples, Fla. scored 15 straight points at one point in the first half for UT Martin before ending his evening with six 3-pointers. Smith poured in 19 points and added five assists while Marshun Newell tied a career-high with 18 points – including five straight points in the final two-plus minutes to ignite the Skyhawks’ game-ending charge.
Presbyterian (3-9) was led by Danny Herrera, who scored 18 points. Jordan Downing (17 points), William Truss (14 points) and Reggie Dillard (11 points) also cracked double-figures for the Blue Hose, who were forced into 16 turnovers tonight.
“When we went down 10, we had every reason to panic and start forcing the issue,” Skyhawk head coach Jason James said. “But the theme in the huddle was to just stay together – no matter what – and our guys did that. We got some key defensive stops late and Terence made a huge three-pointer to put us up and then made big free throws. That has to be the epitome of who we are. The time or score doesn’t matter, we continue to play and stay together.”
UT Martin led 5-2 early thanks to a jumper by Smith and a three-pointer by Newell within the first minute of the game. The Blue Hose would take their first advantage of the contest at the 12:53 mark of the first half but Liabo would soon put on a shooting exhibition.
Liabo reeled off 15 straight points for the Skyhawks, nailing five 3-pointers in a span of 4:31. After Liabo’s fifth trifecta, Newell sank a pair of free throws to tilt the score back in UT Martin’s favor at 26-25 with 6:17 to go in the first half.
Freshman Javier Martinez then provided a spark for the Skyhawks off the bench, scoring six straight points inside to keep the lead at one for UT Martin. The Skyhawk defense also tightened up to close out the half – allowing Presbyterian to score just two points in the final five minutes to provide a 34-33 lead for UT Martin at the break.
Liabo’s 15 points led all scorers while Dillard’s nine points paced Presbyterian.
UT Martin led early in the second half but a 9-3 Blue Hose run gave Presbyterian a 40-36 lead with 16:53 left to play. Newell was responsible for seven straight points at one point to keep the Skyhawks within striking distance but the Blue Hose soon used a 6-0 run to go on top by a 60-50 margin.
Immediately following the double-digit deficit, Smith and Dee Oldham would swish three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to make the score 60-56 with 5:54 left to play.
Presbyterian then scored four straight points to go back ahead by eight but the Skyhawks responded with seven unanswered points – the first five of which came from Myles Taylor.
The Blue Hose led 66-63 with 2:10 left but Newell drained a trey from the right corner to tie the score. After UT Martin forced a turnover, Newell came right back to sink a runner in the lane to provide the Skyhawks with a 68-66 lead at the 1:20 mark.
Presbyterian tied the score on its next possession but a hustle play by Martinez led to one of the biggest plays of the game. UT Martin missed a shot with 25 seconds left but Martinez tracked the ball down and found a wide-open Smith at the top of the three-point arc. Smith then calmly stepped into the trifecta and nailed the shot – giving the Skyhawks a 71-68 lead.
UT Martin elected to foul on Presbyterian’s next possession and after the Blue Hose made both attempts from the charity stripe. After an inbounds pass to Smith, Presbyterian immediately committed a foul to send Smith to the free throw line with UT Martin up by one. Showing the same composure as he did seconds earlier for the go-ahead score, Smith found the bottom of the net for two straight pressure free throws.
The Blue Hose would get an opportunity to send the game into overtime but the Skyhawk defense held once again, as Downing missed a contested three-pointer with one second left.
The Skyhawks go back on the road on Thursday, Dec. 19 when they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks out of the Southeastern Conference. Tipoff time from Bud Walton Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.