March 7, 2014

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team wasted little time taking command of the this afternoon’s game, bursting out to a 22-0 lead before knocking off No. 5 seed Eastern Kentucky in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament semifinals 97-45. With the victory, the Skyhawks advance to the OVC Tournament finals for the fourth consecutive season with an NCAA berth on the line against No. 2 seed Belmont on Saturday, March 8 at 1 p.m.

The Skyhawks (23-7, 15-1 OVC) posted the highest margin of victory in an OVC Tournament matchup with the 52 point win, shattering the previous record of 35 set in 1986, while ranking tied for the third highest margin in program history. The top-seeded Skyhawks shot an impressive 52 percent from the floor while forcing 23 turnovers and holding the Lady Colonels to an opponent-low 45 points, including just 21 second half points.

Led by the play of tournament veterans, senior guards Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome combined for 44 points on the day. Butler, the newly appointed OVC Player of the Year, scored a game high 23 points and three steals while notching her 127th consecutive game in double figures, ranking fifth in NCAA history, and notching her fifth straight game with 20 points or more. Newsome tallied 21 points and six assists on the day, passing Tennessee Tech’s Cheryl Taylor on the OVC’s all-time scoring list with 2,533 career points. Butler and Newsome now sit in first and second, respectively, on the OVC’s scoring leaderboard. 

Joining the duo of Butler and Newsome in double figures was the trio of Elizabeth Masengil, Ashia Jones and Karisma Tyson. Masengil tallied 11 points and five rebounds while Jones and Tyson scored 10 points each. Today’s game marked just the fourth time this season in which the Skyhawks placed five players in double figures.

“We talk about playing to whatever our best is,” said UT Martin coach Kevin McMillan. “If our best is whatever it is, and the other team can beat us, then we are okay with that. We just strive to play our best for 40 minutes and then look up and see what happens. In the second half our effort defensively stayed up and I was very pleased. You saw a glimpse today of what this team can really do. Now, none of what we have done matters, because it all comes down to tomorrow.”

“We knew what we had to do coming out to play,” said Butler. “We basically said that it does not matter if they are fresh or played the last two games, we had to come out with the right mind set. This time of year, anybody is beatable and we knew we had to come out and keep our focus, hit our shots and play as a team. It was a big help that we have players who can come off the bench and produce, which takes some of the pressure off ourselves.”

Eastern Kentucky (17-13, 9-7 OVC) shot just 29 percent from the floor and placed two players in double figures. Mariah Massengill led the way for the Lady Colonels with 12 points while Jasmine Henshaw tallied 10 points.

“Give them a lot of credit, playing three games in as many days, really puts you in a tough spot,

 said McMillan. “Once the first couple shots didn’t go in, while we went on a run of our own, the wind quickly got out of their sails. They played two great games and had to turn around to play a team which was going to make them run, it put them in a whole early.”

UT Martin jumped out to an early 7-0 run against the Lady Colonels. Newsome got the Skyhawks going early with five of the team’s first seven points while the Skyhawk defense forced three turnovers, causing EKU to call their first timeout at the 16:33 mark. The Skyhawks kept up the pace, forcing another pair of turnovers while moving their run out to 15-0 following a pair of trifectas from Newsome and Katie Schubert as EKU called their second timeout with 15:36 to play in the first.

The Skyhawks would ultimately start the game with a 22-0 run before the Lady Colonels knocked down their first shot of the game at the 14:26 mark by Massengill. Taking a 22-3 lead into the 11:59 media, the Skyhawks were led by Newsome who reached double figures.

UT Martin would continue to dominate the game when turning to the bench over the next couple minutes, putting together another 12-3 as Jones tallied four points during the span. Receiving production from their bench, the Skyhawks saw Elizabeth Masengil, Karisma Tyson and Tiara Caldwell all knock down field goals during the stretch.

Eastern Kentucky would make a push at trying to get back in the contest, but were still outscored 10-9 over the next four minutes of play. Michaela Hunter led the Lady Colonels with five of the team’s nine points during the span while Newsome tallied an addition five points.

UT Martin would end the first half with a 56-24 lead. Eastern Kentucky’s 24 points tied for the second least amount of points the Skyhawks have allowed in a single half this season. Newsome led all scorers with 17 points and five assists, moving into second place on the OVC’s all-time scoring list. Five other Skyhawks scored six points or more in the first half. The Lady Colonels were led in scoring by Amadi Brooks who tallied seven points.

The Skyhawks opened the second half with a quick 22-16 advantage through the first eight minutes of play. During the span the Skyhawks saw both Butler and Jones join Newsome in double figures as Butler led the way with eight points.  UT Martin would lead 78-40 with 11:27 to play in the game.

UT Martin would go into the final media timeout with a 6-0 run as the reserves took the game into the final minutes before ending the game on a 12-2 run as Masengil and Tyson both reached double figures. With the 97-45 victory, the Skyhawks will move on to play No. 2 seed Belmont in the OVC Tournament finals, slated for Saturday, March 8 at 1 p.m.