MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team fell behind early and staged a comeback in the second half but could not recover in an 87-72 loss to Belmont in Ohio Valley Conference action at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.
Mike Liabo led the way for UT Martin (5-14, 0-4 OVC) with 20 points in 33 minutes off the bench. It was the third 20-point effort of the season and 15th in the career of the Naples, Fla. native.
Marshun Newell tallied his first career double-double with 10 points and a career-best 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes of play for the Skyhawks. Dee Oldham tied a career-high with 15 points while Terence Smith added 15 points for UT Martin, who outscored the Bruins 49-41 in the second half while attempting its comeback.
Belmont (12-6, 4-0 OVC) was led by Craig Bradshaw’s game-high 22 points. JJ Mann added 18 points while Evan Bradds (18 points) and Reece Chamberlain (13 points) also reached double-figures in the scoring column for the Bruins, the defending OVC champion.
“We had 22 more shots than our opponent and had 18 offensive rebounds but we only shot 34 percent – that’s a tough night,” Skyhawk head coach Jason James said. “We were able to fight back and get into the game in the second half but when we needed that stop to get over the hump, we couldn’t fight through and get it.”
Belmont scored the first five points of the game until a jumper by Myles Taylor put the Skyhawks on the scoreboard at the 16:10 mark. The Bruins then went on a 6-0 spurt but five straight points by Liabo made the score 12-9 with a little under 13 minutes to play in the first half.
The Bruins would answer with a 14-1 run before a three-pointer by Newell at the 6:57 mark ended the drought for UT Martin. Smith followed with six straight points for the Skyhawks but Belmont would close out the half on a 14-4 run over the final three minutes.
Bradshaw led all scorers with 14 points at the break while Smith’s eight points paced the Skyhawks in the first half.
UT Martin began the second half on a 7-3 run in the first 2:36 thanks to baskets by Newell, Oldham and Smith. The Bruins led 61-39 with 12 minutes remaining before the Skyhawks used a 15-2 run over a span of 2:03 to get back in the game. Oldham was responsible for eight straight points during the run – including a pair of three-pointers – to make the score 63-54 with 9:09 to go.
Another trey by Oldham cut the Belmont lead to 12 points with 6:11 left to play. Layups by Newell and Taylor would slice UT Martin’s deficit to 11 points inside of four minutes remaining but ultimately that was as close as the Skyhawks would get.
A big day in UT Martin athletics will occur on Monday, Jan. 13. An introductory press conference for new athletics director Julio Freire will take place on the north end zone of the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center at 3 p.m. A basketball doubleheader will then follow, as the Skyhawk women’s team will host Southeast Missouri at 5:30 p.m. and the men’s team concludes the evening with a 7:30 p.m. matchup against Tennessee State.