GAME NOTES: The Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks will try yet again to crack the win column in league action Saturday, playing host to fellow Ohio Valley Conference combatant Eastern Illinois at the Elam Center.
Tennessee-Martin's forgettable season continued Thursday with an 86-56 drubbing by Southeast Missouri State. The visiting Skyhawks managed to stay within striking distance of SEMO until a debilitating 10-0 run from the hosts. As it was, UTM shot just 35.0 percent from the field while the Redhawks buried 55.6 percent of its field goals. Mike Liabo's 16 points included a 4-for-9 showing from three-point range while Dane Smith added 12 points to the losing cause as UT Martin suffered its 14th consecutive loss and remained winless in OVC play (0-13).
Eastern Illinois took advantage of an ice-cold shooting night from Tennessee Tech to snap its eight-game losing streak Thursday, coming away with a solid 74-57 road win. The Panthers led by eight at the break and shot 51.9 percent from the floor in the second half to pull away for good. TTU managed just a 32.7 shooting percentage for the game and were outscored 36-16 in the paint. A big reason for that was the play of James Hollowell and Jeremy Granger, who scored 17 and 14 points, respectively, to pace the victory as EIU moved to 3-9 in conference play.
UT Martin dropped a 68-55 decision in Charleston January 12 after sweeping last year's season series. The Skyhawks are 5-1 in their last six games versus EIU in Martin and lead the all-time set by a slim 17-16 margin.
The Skyhawks have a toxic mix of poor defense and inept offense, leaving little wonder why the club resides at 3-23 overall and winless in the OVC. If not for fellow league foe Morehead State, Tennessee-Martin would rank last in the conference in scoring (62.9 ppg) and still rank last in the league in field-goal percentage (42.0 percent). Even worse is the defense, which stands last in the OVC in both scoring at 75.1 ppg allowed and a field-goal percentage defense that doubles as the worst in the entire country at 50.9 percent. Just for good measure, UTM is outrebounded 34.1-31.2 on average. Liabo and Myles Taylor are the Skyhawks' best two options on offense, with the former pacing the club in scoring at 14.9 ppg and three-pointers with 54 but on an awful 29.8 percent shooting. Liabo also pulls down 4.0 boards per contest while Taylor grabs 4.9 rpg and adds 12.7 ppg. Smith chips in 8.2 ppg and leads the team in both rebounding at 5.0 per contest and in field-goal percentage (50.9 percent).
The Panthers' offense is led by the senior Granger, who is among the conference's top performers with 15.3 ppg and 3.3 assists per contest. Alfonzo McKinnie is also a top performer for EIU, sitting among the league leaders in rebounding at 7.2 per game and field-goal percentage (56.7 percent) while adding 10.7 ppg to the Panthers' bottom line. Joey Miller gives the club a legit third source of scoring with his 10.1-point average while L.C. Doss leads the club in three-point shooting with 34 on 37.8 percent shooting while adding 6.9 ppg to the mix. Overall, Eastern Illinois puts up 65.5 ppg on 43.3 percent shooting. The defense does its best to make those numbers stand up in allowing 67.5 ppg on 45.0 percent shooting from the field. The Panthers get outrebounded by the slightest of margins at an average of 33.7-32.9 per game.
The Skyhawks' time may have finally come. If they're to get a conference win this season, this would probably be the best shot against a struggling Panthers team at home. It figures to be a close one in the end, but the edge goes to Eastern Illinois with the likes of Granger and McKinnie.