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UTM folded by better EIU deck

UTM folded by better EIU deck
UTM folded by better EIU deck

UT Martin’s LaBrica Ward drives in during the Skyhawk’s defeat on Friday.
NASHVILLE — In poker terms, the UT Martin women went all in on Friday at the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament semifinals.
No. 1 seed Eastern Illinois University simply had a better overall hand.
The Skyhawk women, picked to finish last in the 10-team league in the preaseason poll, tied the game with just over 10 minutes remaining but ultimately fell 65-51.
“Overall, they’re a better basketball team,” said first-year UTM head mentor Kevin McMillan, who was named the league’s Coach of the Year on Thursday. “I thought it was a great ball game and one of the biggest things for me is that we belonged here.
“I’m proud of our effort and it was an enjoyable first year.”
With the game tied at 43-all with 10:04 to go in the second half, UTM missed its next six shots from the field as the Lady Panthers embarked on the game’s defining 15-1 spurt.
UT Martin (11-19) further hurt its cause with five turnovers during the aforementioned run.
“I told the girls in the locker room (after the game) that we had so much gas in the tank coming in,” McMillan said. “And at the end, we didn’t have anything left.”
Eastern Illinois didn’t have enough left in the tank on Saturday as it fell to Austin Peay, 69-60, in the OVC Tournament champoinship game.
On Friday, the UTM women relied on essentially six players — mostly walk-ons and no seniors.
Undoubtedly, a portion of the 12 players listed on the Skyhawk roster will be cut loose when McMillan’s nine-player recruiting class that includes the Gibson County trio of Heather Butler, Heather Griffin and Aubrey Reedy joins the team this summer.
That said, McMillan had nothing but kind words for his UTM walk-ons.
“These kids have come in and most of them just wanted to have a chance to play at the college level,” McMillan said. “Next thing you know, one of them is the starting point guard and another is starting at wing.
“I’ve had others walk on just to help out in practice and tell me they’d do whatever I need them to do to help this team. It’s been really refreshing to see that and it’s the type of people I want on every team.”
Dyer County product Cali Cupples, the lone active holdover from last season’s 2-27 campaign, paced the Skyhawk women with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting (4-for-8 from 3-point range).
Dresden native Erica Glisson also reached double digits for UTM with 11 points.
2009 Union City graduate LaBrica Ward, who was named to the All-OVC Newcomer team on Thursday night offered seven markers and four assists.
Alecia Weatherly — a fellow All-OVC Newcomer squad member — had seven points and a team-best six assists in Friday’s contest at the Bridgestone Arena (formerly Sommet Center).
The Lady Panthers (23-9) were led by OVC Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year Ta’Kenya Nixon’s 19-point effort.
Dominique Sims also hit in twin figures for Eastern Illinois with 17 points as did Maggie Kloak with a double-double (14 points and 12 rebounds).
All totaled, EIU won the battle of the boards with 34 caroms compared to UTM’s 22 rebounds.
The Lady Panthers built a 6-0 lead over the first 2:02 as UTM missed its first two shots of the contest before it came to life.
Finally, Ward put the Skyhawk women on the board via a layup with 17:02 remaining in the first half.
From there, UT Martin inched closer for nearly the next 11 minutes and went ahead (23-22) as Cupples drained a trifecta with 6:10 remaining before intermission.
Glisson followed up with a layup with 5:20 to go to give UTM a three-point lead.
EIU battled back and got back ahead on a Nixon deuce with 3:47 remaining before the break.
However, the Skyhawk women did take much momentum into the locker room thanks to a last-second bucket by Paige Smith.
At halftime, Eastern Illinois was up 30-29.
During the first half, the Lady Panthers dominated in the paint with 20 points from short-range. Meanwhile, UTM had just eight inside markers.
Lyles swished a free throw to tie the game at 30-all with 15 seconds gone from the second half’s clock before Eastern Illinois pulled away over the next seven minutes.
The Lady Panthers bested UT Martin 13-5 from said point until the 12:04 mark to take a 43-35 lead.
UTM mustered one last offensive charge to tie the game at 43. Glisson began the spurt with a trey and Cupples followed with a trifecta of her own.
Glisson then cut in for a quick layup to knot the score up before Eastern Illinois’ game-changing run.
Sports reporter Kenneth Coker can be contacted by e-mail at

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