CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team produced a valiant effort, but could not overcome the hot shooting of Illinois, falling 77-62 at the State Farm Center.
The Skyhawks (6-5) struggled from the field for the second straight game, shooting just 33.8 percent from the field. On top of the poor shooting night for the Skyhawks, the Fighting Illini shot an impressive 55.2 percent, including a 66.7 clipping in the second half.
Offensively, the game was a showdown amongst a pair of senior guards. UT Martin guard Heather Butler scored a game-high 29 points, shooting nearly 50 percent from the field. Butler was the only Skyhawk to reach double figures while Ashia Jones flirted with a double-double with nine points and a game-high eight rebounds.
Illinois (7-5) looked to its senior guard Amber Moore to lead an offensive attack which saw four players score in double figures. Moore tallied a team-high 26 points while chipping in seven rebounds. Jacqui Grant scored 12 points while Sarah Hartwell and Alexis Smith tallied 11 points each. As a team, the Illini tallied 21 assists on their 32 field goals.
“I thought that we played well except for the final eight minutes of the game,” said UT Martin coach Kevin McMillan. “Butler had a great game, we just went through a pair of runs in which we struggled to get the necessary stops. Overall, I’m proud of the way we handled ourselves on the boards and were able to force some turnovers, but we’re still trying to take that next step.”
Illinois jumped out to an early 9-2 lead due in large part to the Skyhawks failing to convert on their first 11 shot attempts. It was Butler’s jumper in the paint which put the Skyhawks on the board, ending the Illini’s 9-0 run.
The Illini continued their early dominance, responding to Butler’s shot with an 8-3 run. Moore scored all eight of the Illini’s points during the span, including back-to-back three pointers from the right wing. Illinois would hold a 17-5 advantage at the 11:37 mark.
Consecutive three pointers by Shai Warfield-Cross and Butler inched the Skyhawks back into the game. Following the Skyhawks 8-5 run, they trailed 22-13 at the 7:45 media break.
The Skyhawks would outscore the Illini 6-4 over the game’s next four minutes. Butler would tally another four points while Newsome’s corresponding layup would bring the game to a 26-19 score with 3:12 to play in the game.
Illinois would end the half with an 8-6 advantage en route to a 34-25 lead at the break. Butler led the Skyhawks with 13 points while Moore led the Illini with 16 points. After starting the game 0-for-11 from the field, the Skyhawks regrouped by shooting 42 percent for the rest of the first half.
UT Martin came out firing in the second half, putting together a 10-4 run before Illinois responded with a four point run of their own. The Skyhawks would trim the lead to as small as three before Illinois responded, giving the Illini a 42-35 lead at the 15:26 mark.
The Skyhawks would outscore the Illini 11-10 over the next four minutes, including seven points from Butler. Illinois would respond with a pair of three pointers, retaining the 52-46 lead.
Illinois would begin to flex its muscles and range over the next break as Moore continued her hot shooting, scoring eight of the Illini’s 11 points over the span. Outscoring the Skyhawks 11-5, the Illini pushed their lead to 63-51 with just under eight minutes to play.
The Illini continued their momentum, going on a 10-0 run before Butler’s jumper would snap the streak. With their feet remaining on the gas pedal, Illinois pushed their lead out to 75-55 with 3:48 to play.
The Skyhawks would look to gain some ground in the game’s final minutes, outscoring the Illini 7-2 but could not overcome the final deficit, falling 77-62.
UT Martin will be back in action on Monday, Dec. 23 when they make the short trip to Southern Illinois. Tip-off from the SIU Arena is scheduled for 12:05 p.m.