March 3, 2018

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The University of Tennessee at Martin saw its fifth Ohio Valley Conference Basketball Championship slip through its fingers on Saturday afternoon as No. 22 Belmont stormed back in the final 30 seconds of regulation before pulling away with a 63-56 overtime victory.

The Skyhawks (19-14) would hold a pair of leads as large as six points in the final 32 seconds of play, but the nationally ranked Bruins would not go away quietly. Belmont would continue to chip away, answering every UT Martin free throw down the stretch before a three-pointer by All-Tournament MVP Darby Maggard sank a three-pointer with 4.5 seconds to play to force overtime. With the game extended, the Bruins found new lift, pulling away down the stretch to notch their third consecutive OVC Basketball Championship title and the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.  

Despite the disappointing results, UT Martin will participate in its seventh postseason tournament in the past eight seasons. Finishing as the OVC’s runner-up, the Skyhawks earned the league’s automatic bid into the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. The bracket and UT Martin’s opponent in the WNIT will be announced on Monday, March 12.

UT Martin received a gutsy performance from senior forward Janekia Mason, who saved her best game of the season for its most critical moment. After exiting yesterday’s game with an injury, Mason returned with a vengeance, scoring a season-high 23 points and 13 rebounds, marking her first double-double of the season and fourth of her Skyhawk career. Junior guard Emanye Robertson also scored in double figures, tallying 12 points on the afternoon. For their strong performances for the week, both Mason and freshman Chelsey Perry earned All-Tournament honors.

“I hate it for our kids,” UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan said. “We outplayed them and they deserved to win this game. The thing is, today was the third straight game that we couldn’t execute in the final 30 seconds and today it came back to bite us. Give Belmont credit though, big players make big play and they found them down the stretch. When you have a championship at hand, you hate to let it slip through your fingers. Nobody understands what we have been through this season, but these kids fought and responded well. Our seniors were leaders during this tournament. It will take a while for the sting to go away, but we still have games to play.”

No. 22 Belmont (31-3) stayed the course throughout the contest. Much like the final minute of the regular season matchup, the Bruins found winning plays down the stretch to punch its postseason ticket. Senior forward Sally McCabe notched a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds while Kyle Smith tallied 14 points. Maggard was rewarded for her clutch shooting down the stretch, scoring 15 points on the day to earn All-Tournament MVP honors.

Belmont would jump out to an early lead, scoring the game’s first seven points before Ashton Feldhaus finally put UT Martin on the scoreboard with a layup at the 4:59 mark. After the initial shock wore off, UT Martin would charge back with an 8-0 run to knot the game at 13 just before the end of the quarter. After the opening 10 minutes, Belmont would hold a 16-13 lead.

Play would remain tight in the second quarter with the margin becoming no larger than four points for either team. UT Martin would take its first lead of the contest with 2:19 to play in the first half as Mason notched an and-one in the post. The Skyhawks would ultimately push their lead out to as large as four points in the second quarter before heading into the locker room at halftime with a 28-27 advantage.

Neither team would score until the 6:18 mark of the third quarter when Feldhaus slipped off a screen and scored on a layup. UT Martin would later string together an 8-0 run, forcing Belmont to call its first timeout of the game as the Skyhawks took a 38-29 lead with 1:25 to play in the third. The Bruins would fight back however, finishing the final 85 seconds on a 7-0 run of their own – capped by a three-pointer by Smith at the buzzer. With the off-setting runs, UT Martin would hold a 38-36 lead heading into the fourth.

UT Martin looked to put the game away in the fourth quarter, clinging to a narrow margin while pushing its advantage out to six points on a pair of occasions down the stretch. With a six-point deficit with 25 seconds to play, Belmont made a final push as Maura Muensterman and Maggard knocked down back-to-back three-pointers in the closing seconds to tie the game at 54-all and force overtime.

With a new life, Belmont scored on its second possession of overtime to take a lead and never looked back. Overall, the Bruins would outscore the Skyhawks 9-2 in the overtime period to secure a 63-56 victory.

UT Martin will now take some time off before returning to the practice court in preparations for the Postseason WNIT. The Skyhawks will find out their first round opponent on Monday, March 12 with first round matchups taking place between March 14-16.

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