IOWA CITY, Iowa – Junior guard Heather Butler put on a show this afternoon in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, pouring in a season-best 37 points against No. 1 seed Notre Dame, but the Skyhawks fell 97-64 to the Fighting Irish in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
UT Martin (19-15) matched the No. 2 team in the nation shot-for-shot for the majority of the first half, led by the prolific scoring of Butler. The 5-5 sparkplug out of Medina scored 20 straight points for the Skyhawks at one point, tallying her 10th career game of 30 or more points. She ended her day with a 13-for-30 shooting performance, adding five free throws in eight attempts. She also drained six of her 11 three-point attempts, extending her NCAA records of consecutive games with a three-pointer (80) and in a season (34 games).
“Coming in here, nobody knows who UT Martin is,” Butler said. “And going against a No. 1 seed, you want to come out here and prove that we can play with Notre Dame. We are just going to give it all we got and we are a team that with heart that plays hard. It meant a lot and we definitely learned a lot from this experience.”
Butler’s 37 points are the most points scored in the 2013 NCAA Tournament first round with the results from four games still pending. Butler passed Central Michigan’s Crystal Bradford in that category, as Bradford scored 36 points against Oklahoma in first round action on March 23.
Butler’s 37 points are also one point shy of the all-time record for an opponent against Notre Dame, nearly passing Latasha Byears’ 38 point performance for DePaul against the Fighting Irish on Jan. 16, 1995. It is the most points any player has ever scored against Notre Dame in an NCAA Tournament game, passing Connecticut great Maya Moore’s 36 point outing against the Fighting Irish on April 3, 2011 in the Final Four.
“I thought Butler had probably the best individual game anybody’s had against us all year long,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “She was phenomenal. I think we slowed her down for four minutes, but she played extremely well. What a great performance by her.”
“What that young lady does is absolutely amazing,” UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan said. “She had an opportunity to play against All-Americans and I would think 37 points is a pretty good day against a No. 1 seed.”
Two-time Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year Jasmine Newsome also added 15 points and five assists for UT Martin, who closes out its season with a 19-15 overall record after making its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
“In the first half with about four minutes to go and it was a six point game,” McMillan said. “Notre Dame went to a triangle-and-two defense because they couldn’t guard Butler and Newsome. I thought that was a tremendous tribute to what these two are able to do. Notre Dame is a great team and we talk all the time about three possessions is going to be a game. The three possessions were when they changed their defense from man-to-man. We couldn’t get back and it just kind of snowballed from there.”
Notre Dame (32-1) was led by 27 points from Jewell Loyd and a double-double (22 points, 10 rebounds) by Kayla McBride. Natalie Achonwa (16 points) and Skylar Diggins (10 points) also led the Fighting Irish, who won their school-record 27th straight game.
Notre Dame scored the first four points of the game until a layup off an offensive rebound by Rickiesha Bryant got the Skyhawks on the scoreboard at the 18:38 mark. The Fighting Irish extended their lead out to 14-4 with 15:23 to play in the first half but Butler answered right back with an old-fashioned three-point play to get UT Martin within seven.
After Notre Dame went ahead by 11, the Skyhawk offense started clicking on all cylinders. A pull-up jumper by Butler sparked a 7-0 UT Martin run over a span of 1:17 to pull the Skyhawks within four points (20-16) with 12:19 to play.
Butler stayed hot, scoring 15 consecutive points for the Skyhawks – including a backdoor layup and free throw for another old-fashioned three-point play – to keep UT Martin within striking distance at 28-24 with just under nine minutes to go before the halftime break.
The Fighting Irish used a 10-2 run to go back on top by a dozen but a Butler three-pointer on the right wing with 4:03 remaining in the first half trimmed the Skyhawk deficit to 38-31. However, Notre Dame would close out the half with 11 unanswered points to take a 49-31 lead at the half.
Butler’s 23 points led all scorers at the break, as she made eight of her 17 field goal attempts including a trio of three-pointers. Loyd’s 17 points paced the Fighting Irish, who shot just 14.3 percent from beyond the three-point arc in the first 20 minutes.
Notre Dame was responsible for the first four points of the second half until Butler chalked up another two points on a drive to the hoop at the 18:48 mark. The Fighting Irish would soon go on a 7-0 run but three-pointers on back-to-back possessions by Butler and Shelby Crawford resulted in a 62-39 score.
Chelsey Hall converted a tough reverse layup and Newsome accounted for an old-fashioned three-point play with 13:14 left to play to will the Skyhawks within 21 points at 65-44. However, Notre Dame responded with nine unanswered points until a Butler fast break layup at the 10:16 mark.
Butler canned trifectas from the same spot on the left wing in a span of 38 seconds to continue her sizzling scoring performance. Sydney Vanlandingham (runner in the lane) and Katie Schubert (three-pointer from the right wing) scored on back-to-back possessions to make the score 87-59.
UT Martin would score five unanswered late thanks to two baskets by Newsome to close out the Skyhawk scoring.
Today’s game marked the end of the collegiate careers for seniors Bryant and Crawford, who each recorded three championship rings in their three seasons in a Skyhawk uniform. Bryant set single-season records in field goal percentage (.642) and blocks (87) this season while Crawford tallied 259 points and 296 rebounds while starting 51 of 94 games in her UT Martin career.