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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 23, 8 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Skyhawk Arena (5,000) -- Martin, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: EIU 4-5, UTM 4-5. Away Record: EIU 2-7, UTM 2-10. Neutral Record: EIU 0-0, UTM 0-0. Conference Record: EIU 3-4, UTM 1-5. Series Record: Eastern Illinois leads, 19-17.
GAME NOTES: The Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks will begin a two-game homestand at Skyhawk Arena on Thursday night, as they play host to the Eastern Illinois Panthers in an Ohio Valley Conference showdown.
EIU has struggled this season, as it sits with just a 6-12 overall record, but it has turned things around of late with wins in two of its last three games to improve to 3-4 in the OVC. The Panthers most recently hosted Austin Peay on Saturday and escaped with a 67-64 victory.
UTM has been even worse off than EIU on the campaign at 6-15, and it has shown very few signs of turning things around with losses in seven of its past eight games. The Skyhawks dropped an 85-75 decision at Morehead State on Saturday afternoon to fall to 1-5 in conference action.
The Panthers swept the two-game series versus the Skyhawks last season by a combined 41 points to take a 19-17 lead all time.
The Panthers endured a back-and-forth contest with Austin Peay their last time out until Luke Piotrowski dunked home the game-winning bucket with 2:49 left. They shot a stellar 53.1 percent from the field in the triumph and were paced by the efforts of Reggie Smith, who shot 6-of-10 from the field for 15 points while also dishing out five assists. Piotrowski netted 12 points, Sherman Blanford put up 11 points and eight rebounds and Dylan Chatman and Chris Olivier scored nine points apiece.
On the season, EIU has underperformed on both ends of the court, shooting just 42 percent from the field for 63.6 ppg while allowing 71.4 ppg on 46 percent shooting. It also lives in the red in terms of rebounding (-1.8) and turnover (-1.4) margins and shoots 3-pointers at less than 30 percent. Smith shoots just 39.3 percent from the floor but still leads the team in scoring (13.3 ppg), assists (49) and steals (24). Blanford (11.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Olivier (9.2 ppg) also bring regular contributions to the table.
The Skyhawks trailed Morehead State by as many as 15 points in the second half of their most recent contest, and while they were able to climb back to make it just a one-possession game late they could never overtake the lead. They were able to keep the tilt close by shooting an outstanding 25-of-27 from the free-throw line, but they were only 38.9 percent from the field and committed 18 turnovers. Mike Liabo shined off the bench with a career-high 32 points, shooting 10-of-18 from the floor (6-of-12 from 3-point range) and 6-of-7 from the line. Myles Taylor and Marshun Newell netted 13 points apiece, while Terence Smith chipped in 10 points.
Scoring points in rarely the issue for UTM, as it pours in 72.5 ppg, but unfortunately its defense is one of the worst in the nation, allowing 80.3 ppg on a lofty 51.1 percent field goal shooting. Taylor paces the squad in both scoring (15.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.7 rpg) while making field goals at greater than 50 percent efficiency. Smith (14.3 ppg) and Liabo (13.6 ppg) have combined to drain 72 3-pointers, while Newell rounds out the balanced squad with 11.4 ppg.
EIU hasn't performed very well on the road this season (2-7), but facing off against a UTM squad that hasn't done much right of late, it should be able to keep its solid run going.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eastern Illinois 77, Tennessee-Martin 71
01/23 10:19:22 ET
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