MOREHEAD, Ky. – Mike Liabo accumulated a career-best 32 points in only 25 minutes off the bench for the University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball team but Morehead State made eight free throws in the final 40 seconds to claim an 82-75 win at Ellis T. Johnson Arena.
UT Martin (6-15, 1-5 Ohio Valley Conference) trailed by 15 points early in the second half but got back in the game courtesy of Liabo’s hot hand. The senior out of Naples, Fla. made 10 of his 18 shot attempts – including a 6-for-12 performance from beyond the three-point arc – and added six free throws in seven attempts to eclipse his previous career-high of 27 points.
Marshun Newell added 13 points – including seven straight points late – to get UT Martin within one possession in crunch time. Myles Taylor chipped in 13 points and a game-high eight rebounds while Terence Smith scored 10 points for the Skyhawks, who shot 52 percent in the second half (13-for-25).
Morehead State (13-7, 4-1 OVC) was led by 25 points out of Angelo Warner. Jordan Percell (13 points), Brent Arrington (12), Greg Dotson (11) and Chad Posthumus (10) also reached double-digits in the scoring column for the Eagles.
“We came out flat and our energy was down to start out the second half and Morehead State was able to extend their lead,” Skyhawk head coach Jason James said. “We have to take care of the ball better but we competed and got back in the game when we had every opportunity to lay down and quit. I was proud of the fact that we continued to play. Games come down to a few possessions and those possessions in the second half were critical.”
The Skyhawks came out on a roll, jumping out to a 9-2 lead at the 16:24 mark behind five early points by Taylor. Morehead State would get within two points until a Liabo three-pointer from the right side with 12:36 to play in the first half.
Morehead State would take its first lead since 2-0 with a pair of free throws at the 6:46 mark but Justin Childs would even the score at 15-all on the Skyhawks’ next possession.
The Eagles would then score eight unanswered points over a span of 52 seconds to go ahead by a 23-15 margin. Morehead State would go on top 34-21 with 2:25 remaining before the break but UT Martin would finish the half strong, accounting for the last seven points to make the score 34-28.
Liabo was responsible for five of the Skyhawks’ points during the 7-0 spurt and had 12 points to lead UT Martin at the half. Warner had 12 points in the first 20 minutes to lead the Eagles.
A Taylor layup 22 seconds into the second half sliced the Skyhawk deficit to four points but Morehead State used a 14-2 run to go ahead 47-32 with a shade under 15 minutes to play.
Liabo then poured in eight straight points for UT Martin to get the Skyhawks back within single-digits (49-40) with 13 minutes remaining. Another Liabo trifecta at the 10:30 mark cut the Morehead State lead to 56-49.
The Eagles would stretch their lead out to 12 points with 7:40 left to play but UT Martin made another run behind the steady play of Newell. The redshirt junior out of Memphis registered seven consecutive points in a span of 1:23 to get the Skyhawks within one possession (69-66) with four minutes left to play.
After a pair of Morehead State free throws, Liabo canned a deep trey on UT Martin’s next possession to pull the Skyhawks within two points at 71-69. Late in the shot clock on Morehead State’s next possession, Drew Kelly hit a three-pointer from the left wing to give the Eagles a five-point advantage with 2:51 to go.
Smith responded with two free throws on the other end to get the Skyhawks back within three points at 74-71 with 1:39 remaining. However, Morehead State made its free throws late to conclude the game.
UT Martin returns to the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center for a two-game homestand against OVC West rivals Eastern Illinois (Jan. 23) and SIU Edwardsville (Jan. 25). The Eastern Illinois game will tip off at 7 p.m. while the SIU Edwardsville game is slated to start at 4 p.m. as part of a women’s and men’s doubleheader.