UTM maybe fills ‘big’ shoes despite loss to ranked Vandy

UTM maybe fills ‘big’ shoes despite loss to ranked Vandy
Messenger Sports Editor
Kevin McMillan admitted he’d gladly accept Wednesday’s 99-84 loss to nationally-ranked and unbeaten Southeastern Conference opponent Vanderbilt on one condition.
“If, and put ‘if’ in big bold letters, if we can get every night what we got out of Rickiesha (Bryant) and Meagan White tonight, yeah, I’ll take it,” the UT Martin women’s coach said after his team gamely fought the Lady Commodores to the very end and cut a 27-point second-half deficit to a respectable final margin Wednesday night at the Elam Center.
Having sought a legitimate post threat since his arrival at UTM three years ago, McMillan saw the 6-4 Bryant offer a glimpse of what could be with a career-high 18 points and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes against high-caliber competition.
“I didn’t tense up tonight and just played my game,” said the junior college transfer who came into the contest averaging 2.3 points and three rebounds per-game during the Skyhawks’ first seven contests.
“I feel like I can do this every night.”
Even more noteworthy was that Bryant posted her numbers against preseason All-SEC Vanderbilt 6-4 center Stephanie Holzer, who herself had 13 points and eight boards in 19 minutes.
White, a freshman from Ohio who’d logged only limited playing time coming in, drained back-to-back 3-pointers during her two-minute stint in the second half when UT Martin spurted on a spirited 16-2 run that chopped an 80-55 deficit to 11 points with 6:28 to play. Included in that flurry was another three-ball by Heather Butler, two free throws by Jasmine Newsome, and single foul shots from Butler and Bryant.
Though the Skyhawks never got closer than 82-71 and 93-82, they ended up giving Vandy (No. 19 in USA Today Top 25) its closest game in a 10-0 start to the season after what looked like would be a Lady Commodore blowout victory following a near-flawless first half.
Vanderbilt shot a blistering 67.7 percent in the first half — including a jaw-dropping 9-of-11 from beyond the arc. That marksmanship grew to 11-of-13 in the early stages of the second half behind the dead-eye long-range shooting of Jasmine Lister and Christina Foggie, who combined for 10 of those trifectas and ultimately 50 points between them.
Down by as many as 27 points (69-42) with 15:09 to play, the Skyhawks didn’t pack it in, though, and instead made a game of it with lively effort that saw Newsome score 16 of her team-high 28 points after the intermission on a variety of shots, drives and free throws. She also dished out eight assists and snatched four steals in the contest.
And count Newsome — who was 12-for-12 from the foul line — among those who believe the loss against a heralded foe will ultimately help UTM to its goal of an second Ohio Valley Conference tourney title and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“If we play like we did in the second half, we can definitely win the OVC championship,” said the Millington sophomore who was the league’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the all-conference team as a freshman. “We started playing as a team in the second half and trusting each other.
“Last year, they (McMillan) told us playing teams like Vanderbilt would make us better when we started playing in the OVC. We were just freshmen and didn’t know what to think about that. He was right and I believe the same will be true this year.”
Vandy beat UTM in 2010, 72-60.
Butler, despite first-half foul trouble, ended up in double figures, too, — along with Newsome and Bryant — finishing with 13 points.
UT Martin is now 4-4 with another of those losses to a second nationally-ranked teams ( No. 14, USA Today).
The Skyhawks play next at Central Arkansas on Saturday.
GAME NOTES: The Lady Commodores were the first nationally-ranked team to visit the Elam Center since 2005 (Georgia). It marked the fifth time ever UTM has hosted a Top 25 team. Tennessee (1997 and ’99), and Vanderbilt in 2002, represented those other occasions. … Vanderbilt is one of just 15 unbeaten teams in the nation and its 10-0 start is the best-ever under veteran coach Melanie Balcomb, who is in her 10th season at the school. The margin of victory in Vandy’s other nine wins had been 29 ppg on average. … Butler had 20 points and Newsome 17 as freshmen in UTM’s 12-point loss to the Lady ’Dores in Nashville last season. Published in The Messenger 12.8.11

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