By RANDY CAVIN
NASHVILLE — Top-seed UT Martin is going to the big dance for the second year in a row after defeating Tennessee Tech 82-65 in the Ohio Valley Conference Women’s Tournament Championship game Saturday.
It was also the second straight year the Skyhawks (23-8) faced the Golden Eagles (17-16) in the OVC Championship game. Last year, the Skyhawks entered the title game as second-seed and won the automatic bid into the NCAA Women’s Tournament. This year, the Skyhawks entered the title game as the top-seed.
Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome carried the weight of the team on their shoulders in the second half and wreaked havoc on the Golden Eagles much like they have against every team in the OVC during the season.
With Tech leading 51-45 with 13:48 to play, Butler and Newsome went into high gear and the Skyhawks rolled off 13 straight points. Newsome got the run started on a jumper followed by a pair of free throws, and then Butler hit a layup to tie the game.
Newsome gave the Skyhawks the lead on a jump shot with 11:10 to play. It was a lead the Skyhawks would not relinquish for the remainder of the game. Tennessee Tech’s Brittney Darling ended the run on a layup with 9:54 to play.
Butler, the OVC Tournament MVP, scored a game-high 35 points. Newsome scored 26 for the Skyhawks, who are now riding a 14-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
“Basically, Butler and Newsome decided they were going to make the plays needed at the end,” UTM coach Kevin McMillan said. “It wasn’t a lot of coaching. I just know they can put this team on their shoulders when they have to and tonight they did.”
Butler, Newsome and Jaclissa Haislip played the full 40 minutes in the game. Haislip scored on a 3-pointer and grabbed seven defensive rebounds. Butler had a total of 11 rebounds. Aubrey Reedy was one-for-one behind the arc and scored seven points. Taylor Hall, the only senior on the team, came off the bench and played 35 minutes and scored six points on a pair of 3-pointers in the first half.
After the game, Hall could be seen hugging the championship trophy and did not want to let go of it.
The game was everything it was hyped up to be with UTM jumping out to a 10-2 lead and Tech coming from behind to tie the game with 11:44 to play in the first half. Tech tied the game once again at 22-all at the 5:53 mark. Newsome’s 3-pointer gave the Skyhawks the lead once again after Tech tied it. The Skyhawks took a narrow 36-34 lead going into halftime.
The Skyhawks did not panic after the Golden Eagles took a six-point lead twice in the second half. The Skyhawks were trying to force the issue once they got down, but McMillan brought Perica Glenn into the game and the Skyhawks got into a groove and started making the plays that propelled them to a conference championship.
“When we were down six, Perica Glenn came off the bench and gave us a spark with her energy and rebounds,” Newsome said after the game.
Glenn played nine minutes off the bench in the second half and grabbed two defensive rebounds.
Butler took over the scoring later in the second half when Newsome appeared to get tired, putting 22 points on the board in the half.
“I thought she got a little winded,” McMillan said about Newsome. “So we went to this one (Butler) she proceeded to hit two or three buckets. I do not know what goes through their minds, but like I said before, they can put this team on their shoulders when they have to.”
Butler, who is short in size, but big in determination, had to force her way around the bigger Tennessee Tech players and made gut-wrenching drives to the basket. She found herself on the floor on more than one occasion in the second half.
“I am kind of use to it,” Butler said. “Throughout my basketball career I end up on the ground somehow. Because I am so short, I have to compete and make contact with the post players so I end up on the ground a lot. But I bounce right back up. I cannot let that effect me.”
It is now a wait-and-see for the Skyhawks to see which region they will be playing in and what seed they will get. McMillan is hoping for a 14 seed. Last year the Skyhawks were a 15-seed heading into the tournament.
“We have a little better record this year, a little better run so maybe we can get up to a 14 seed,” he said. “Nashville would be nice as a 15 seed. Just staying close to home I think we would have a huge crowd like we had tonight.”
ESPN will be airing the NCAA Women’s Selection Show at 6 p.m. March 12.
Publlished in The Messenger 3.5.12