Skyhawks MBB season ends in OVC semifinals against Tennessee Tech

 Skyhawks MBB season ends in OVC semifinals against Tennessee Tech

The UT Martin men’s basketball squad battled throughout Friday night’s OVC Championship semifinals but unfortunately, the 2022-23 Skyhawk season closed out with a 78-63 setback to No. 2 seed Tennessee Tech.

Dressing out only eight players, UT Martin went on a run just before the halftime break to tie the score up at 26-all. However, the Golden Eagles shot 57.1 percent (16-of-28) and made seven three-pointers over the final 20 minutes and the Skyhawks could not keep pace.

KK Curry was UT Martin’s leading scorer this evening, topping the team in that column for the first time all season. The junior forward from Cleveland, Tenn. piled up 21 points and a team-best nine rebounds, knocking down nine of his 14 field goal tries while adding two steals and a block.

Jordan Sears (15 points) and Parker Stewart (11 points, eight rebounds) also scored in double digits for the Skyhawks, who only committed nine turnovers but were held to 17.9 percent (5-for-28) shooting from the three-point arc.

Playing its first game since last Saturday’s regular-season finale, Tennessee Tech (16-16) received 28 points and 14 rebounds out of Jaylen Sebree while Brett Thompson chipped in 19 points.

“We had a rough start but found a way to tie it up at halftime and felt good with our group going in the second half,” UT Martin head coach Ryan Ridder said. “I thought we just ran out of gas and Tennessee Tech made some big shots late and that’s what tournament basketball looks like. We could not be more proud of this incredible journey these guys just took us on – every UT Martin Skyhawk should hang their head high. To be transparent, we’re still building this thing – I love the foundation we set last year. We saw the wins add up this year and next year I think we’ll take one step further because of the core group we have returning in that locker room.”

A little over 30 seconds into the contest, Sears sank a pull-up jumper to give the Skyhawks an early lead. The Golden Eagles scored the next six points but a pair of Stewart free throws at the 13:43 mark pulled UT Martin within one point at 8-7.

Tennessee Tech soon went on a 12-4 run to claim a double-digit lead (23-13) with six minutes remaining in the opening half. That’s when the Skyhawks began to make a push as the duo of Curry (nine) and Koby Jeffries (five) combined to score 14 consecutive UT Martin points during one stretch.

Stewart nailed a three-pointer and Sears converted a tough driving layup with under two minutes to go in the first half as the Skyhawks wrapped things up on an 11-2 run.

Curry’s 12 points at the break led all scorers while Sebree’s seven points guided the Golden Eagles, who were forced into 18.8 percent shooting (3-for-16) from three-point range.

Three of Tennessee Tech’s first four buckets of the second half were from downtown. Curry offset the first one with a trey of his own to keep the score knotted at 29-all before a second-chance layup from Chris Nix nudged UT Martin ahead by a 33-32 margin with 15:52 left to play.

The Golden Eagles responded with a 10-2 run but the Skyhawks plugged away by attacking the rim. During a 2:15 stretch, four different UT Martin players (Sears, Curry, Nix, Jeffries) scored on layups to pull the Skyhawks within four points at 47-43.

Tennessee Tech scored six of the following seven points but a stepback trey from Parker Stewart at the 5:16 mark sliced UT Martin’s deficit down to six points. Unfortunately, that was as close as the Skyhawks would get the rest of the way.

The Skyhawks conclude the 2022-23 campaign with a 19-14 record after going 10-8 in the OVC standings.

The 19 victories rank fifth in the school’s NCAA Division I Era (since 1992) and were an 11-win improvement from Ridder’s first season at the helm – good enough for the second-best turnaround in program history. The 2022-23 version of UT Martin basketball ranked second all-time in school history in scoring (2,658 points, 80.5 points per game) and rebounding (1,293, 39.2 per game) and won double-digit OVC games for the sixth time in school history while equaling a program record with 14 home wins.

(UTM Sports Information)