As the Tennessee State men’s basketball team comfortably led throughout Wednesday’s contest against Tennessee-Martin, something appeared to be missing.
Two spurts at the beginning of the first and second halves gave the Tigers a cushion in their first-round matchup of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament at Municipal Auditorium. They never quite put the Skyhawks away, however. That 10-point lead whittled down to six, then three and suddenly UT-Martin led with more than four minutes remaining.
By that point, it was too late to get rid of the eighth-seeded Skyhawks, who persevered for a 68-64 victory to advance to the quarterfinals and end No. 5 seed TSU’s season.
“Maybe we didn’t have that killer spirit,” TSU coach John Cooper said. “If you watch us throughout the year, there were various times when we were able to get up and take a lead and could never ever quite put a team away.”
A 10-0 run early in the first half and an 11-4 spurt out of halftime put Tennessee State (14-16) in the driver’s seat in an otherwise close game. The Tigers led by eight with 7:28 left but only made one field goal in the last eight minutes and UT-Martin (12-20) took advantage. The Skyhawks went on an 11-2 run and Mike Liabo hit a 3-pointer, drew a foul and made the free throw for the four-point play for a 61-60 lead with 4:31 left. It was UT-Martin’s first lead since scoring the first basket of the game.
“It was huge,” UT-Martin coach Jason James, whose team will play Tennessee Tech at 6 p.m. Thursday, said. “I’m not going to say it was the best shot Mike has ever taken but over the years we’ll kind of live with that… I thought we were going good, but for him to make the shot to keep us going and kind of get us over the hump. Then we were playing from ahead, which was something we hadn’t done all night.”
The Skyhawks, who lost both regular-season games against TSU, pushed the lead to 65-61 with 41.9 seconds left. The Tigers’ Patrick Miller hit two free throws and UT-Martin’s Troy King traveled under TSU’s basket. Kenny Moore then drew a foul and went to the free throw line with a chance to tie. He had made his first seven free throws but his first attempt with 15.3 seconds to go, rimmed out.
“I want our guys to understand it is not about one possession. It is about the course of the game,” Cooper said. “If you handle your business through the course of the game then that one free throw. … We shot 22 of 25 free throws. Trust me, it wasn’t the free-throw line why we lost the game. If we would have shot 50 percent, then of course no one talks about the one free throw. You talk about the other 14 you miss. It wasn’t the free-throw line. I thought it was in but it wasn’t.”
Moore made the second free throw but UT-Martin’s Terence Smith made two of his own for a game-high 20 points and a three-point lead. The Tigers’ Robert Covington was then called for basket interference after trying to tip in Wil Peters’ missed layup with 7.6 seconds left. Liabo made one of two free throws for UT-Martin to ice the game with 6.4 seconds to go.
Moore scored a team-high 18 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had four assists. He was one of four TSU players in double-digit figures along with Miller (11), Peters (11) and Covington (10). But the Tigers turned the ball over 12 times, were just 2-of-15 from 3-point range and, according to Cooper, didn’t do enough inside the paint.
“I do feel like we gave it away,” Moore said. “I feel like we just let it slip out of our hands. We beat this team twice in the regular season. This shouldn’t have happened.”
TSU women fall at the buzzer
Tennessee State got the shot it wanted. It just didn’t go in.
Kim Haynes’ game-tying layup at the buzzer bounced off the backboard and missed the rim as the Lady Tigers fell 57-55 to Jacksonville State in a first-round game Wednesday afternoon at Municipal Auditorium.
Haynes’ miss followed a game-winning jumper by Brittany Wiley with five seconds left as the Gamecocks rallied from an 18-point deficit to end TSU’s season.
Jacksonville State (10-20), the sixth seed, moves on to play No. 3 seed Morehead State in a quarterfinal at 2 p.m. on Thursday.
After Wiley’s jumper, TSU (9-21) took a timeout. Haynes got the ball and raced the length of the floor, lofting a point-blank layup as time expired. It hit the right side of the backboard and bounced directly back. It appeared Haynes, who finished with 13 points, had an open look.
“I think she anticipated a foul instead of just really going in there for that score,” TSU coach Tracee Wells said. “I think actually she didn’t think it was going to be that wide-open. I didn’t expect it to be that wide-open. … That for Kim is going to be a tough one to stomach. But I’m sure it is one that in her senior year that she probably won’t miss another wide-open layup.”
Added Jacksonville State coach Annette Watts: “We’re long and lean and we get in your head a little bit that we are going to block your shot and I think that affected [Haynes].”
Jasmin Shuler’s fifth 3-pointer of the first half gave TSU a 31-13 lead with 1:33 before intermission. Shuler came off the bench to score 15 of her career-best 21 points in the first half. The Clarksville native made seven 3-pointers, a career-high and one shy of tying the tournament record. TSU was 11-of-29 from 3-point range and broke the tournament record for most 3-pointers attempted (the previous high was 27).
After Shuler’s trey, though, TSU went cold, only making two baskets over the next 15 minutes. That allowed Jacksonville State to crawl back in the game. The Gamecocks attacked the basket — they outscored TSU 32-12 in the paint and had 17 second-chance points — and went on a 23-4 run. They took a 36-35 lead on two free throws by Brittany Manning, who finished with a team-high 17 points.
From there, it was back and forth, with neither team leading by more than four points. Haynes’ 3-pointer with 2:43 left gave the Lady Tigers a 53-49 lead. But Manning made two straight baskets in the next 40 seconds to tie the game and set up an exciting finish.
“In the second half, when they made their run at us, we took too long to run back unfortunately,” Wells said. “With a young team, we kind of were bitten by the same things that have plagued us throughout the season with our turnovers  and, at times, our inability to score the basketball.”
No. 7 Southeast Missouri State 65, No. 6 Eastern Kentucky 49
Marland Smith scored 20 points as four Southeast Missouri State players finished with at least 10 points as the Redhawks pulled away from Eastern Kentucky.
SEMO led just 29-28 at halftime but went on a 19-2 run midway through the second half to advance to a quarterfinal. The Redhawks (10-21) will play No. 3 seed Austin Peay at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Joshua Jones led Eastern Kentucky (15-16) with 15 points
No. 5 Austin Peay 71, No. 8 Murray State 64
Brooke Faulkner scored 20 points as four Austin Peay players scored in double-digit figures to hold off Murray State.
The Lady Govs advance to play No. 4 seed Eastern Illinois in a quarterfinal at 12 p.m. Thursday. Austin Peay (14-17) led by as many as 19 in the second half but the Racers (9-21) tied it up with nearly six minutes left. The Lady Govs ended the game on a 10-3 run, however, making 8 of 11 free throws in the last 2:10. Murray State’s Mariah Robinson scored 17 of her game-high 28 points in the second half.