By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
With all eyes focused on UT Martin’s dynamic duo, a couple of other heroes rode to the rescue.
Taylor Hall drained a 28-footer with two seconds left in regulation to force overtime, and Jaclissa Haislip then scored nine of her 12 points in the extra session to lift the Skyhawks to a thrilling 94-86 come-from-behind victory over Ohio Valley Conference-leading Eastern Illinois Saturday.
The stirring triumph avenged UTM’s only league loss and gave the Skyhawks (17-8, 11-1) a share of the top spot in the conference. It also broke the Lady Panthers’ 13-game winning streak this season and a run of 20 consecutive OVC regular season victories that spanned two years.
With the high-scoring backcourt tandem of Heather Butler (32) and Jasmine Newsome (29) doing their usual bang-up job and essentially carrying UT Martin’s hopes, Hall and Haislip joined their teammates in starring roles at the most critical times in Saturday’s OT barn-burner.
Hall tied her personal career-highs in points (15) and made 3-pointers (5), the last of which came from deep on the perimeter and just in front of the Skyhawk bench after EIU’s Ta’Kenya Nixon had made two free throws with 12.2 seconds to go to give her team a 78-75 cushion. Hall had sank her fourth triple to halve a six-point deficit with just over four minutes showing when her team was in its biggest hole of the night.
Haislip — held to just three points in regulation on 1-of-7 shooting — did not miss in the overtime. She made four consecutive free throws after Butler gave UTM a lead it would not lose with a layup to begin the five-minute period, then buried a 3-pointer and made a layup to finish off a 12-point night.
“The key to our team is, ‘Who else is going to step up, other than Heather and Jasmine?’” UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan said after his club’s thrilling comeback triumph that was payback for an earlier 70-63 road loss. “Obviously, the more people we have to do that, the tougher it will be for teams to guard those two and the better we’ll be.”
“Tonight, it was Taylor and Jaclissa’s game. They stepped up and made shot and plays at critical times. That will not only give them confidence in future such situations, it’ll make the teams we play know they’ll have to guard more than just Heather and Jasmine.”
The Skyhawks did not miss a shot as a team in the OT, hitting all five of their field goals — including a pair of treys — and 4-of-4 from the charity stripe.
Butler finished with a game-high 32 points and broke the UTM career record for made 3-pointers with a triple just after the intermission that gave her 157 and surpassed the total of Kelly Pendleton, who played from 1998-2002.
Butler (13-of-18) and Newsome (11-of-21) combined to go 24-of-39 (61.5 percent) for the contest and had 54 of UTM’s 75 points before Hall saved the Skyhawks from the first home league loss since Jan. 16, 2010.
“It was the biggest shot I’ve made since I’ve been here,” said Hall, a junior college transfer from Roane State who played at Mt. Juiliet on the prep level. “I’m almost done here and this is my last shot.
“Jaclissa and I have to step up and make shots. We’re going to have opportunities because our girls slough off us to help on Heather and Jasmine.”
UTM held its largest lead at the half (44-32) with Newsome (19) and Butler (15) combining for all of but 10 Skyhawk points include 5-of-6 from beyond the arc.
EIU, though, which shot nearly 70 percent in the second half and made of its first eight shots after the break, rallied to overtake UT Martin behind 16 points from Nixon. The Lady Panthers tied the score on the first on consecutive 3-point trips by Jordyne Cruck with 8:06 to play and led by as many as six (74-68) with 4:35 left on Sydney Mitchell’s jumper.
Hall then hit from outside before Butler brought the UTM within 76-75 with another long ball with 14 seconds remaining in regulation, setting up the exciting remaining time left.
“It was a really good win before a big crowd (2,561) but our focus the rest of the way has to be on winning the (OVC) tournament,” added McMillian, whose program won last year’s version and advanced to the NCAAs for the first time in school history.
“We all know that the OVC isn’t going to get a second bid (to the NCAA). I’d rather have lost this one and win one against them in the tournament.”
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 2.13.12