NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team became the first team to win four consecutive Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championships since 2001-04 with a 78-66 victory over No. 2 seed Belmont Bruins on Saturday afternoon at Municipal Auditorium. The victory notches the team’s six OVC title (four tournament, two regular season) in the past four years while clinching a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Skyhawks (24-7) never trailed after the 18:58 mark of the first half, while only trailing for 25 second in the whole game, en route to the program’s decisive tournament title. In contrast to the Skyhawks’ semifinal contest, the top-seeded Skyhawks had to provide a gutsy performance. Both teams valued each possession, committing just nine turnovers a piece.
Four players scored in double figures for the Skyhawks who were led by the play of senior Jasmine Newsome, the tournament’s most valuable player. Newsome battled a twisted ankle along with a tumble over a media table before finishing with a game-high 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists to lead the Skyhawks. The MVP award is Newsome’s third of her career and second straight while scoring 20 or more points in nine consecutive OVC Tournament games.
Freshman Ashia Jones tossed in 16 points while Heather Butler and Katie Schubert tallied 12 points each. With Butler’s 12 point performance, she earned a spot on the All-Tournament team, while extending her career double figures streak to 128 straight games and moving into a tie for fourth on the NCAA’s career made 3-point field goals list with 389. She now trails the all-time NCAA three-point record by three, set by Kansas State’s Laurie Koehn in 2002-05 with 392.
In addition to the victory, the Skyhawks set a new program record for single season scoring with 2,623 total points this season. The mark eclipsed the previous record set in the 2011-12 season of 2,563, which ranked first in the country. Along with scoring records, the victory gave UT Martin 24 wins on the season, ranking as a new program record.
“I thought that going into the game that we wanted the game to be kind of our style – our pace,” said UT Martin coach Kevin McMillan. “I thought that they would have trouble playing it but we couldn’t make them play the way that we wanted them to play. That’s a tribute to them. For this class to win four championships, I don’t think we ever dreamed of that when I recruited them and told them when they were high school seniors, ‘Hey, we’re going to win some games.’ But, we’re very thrilled.”
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Butler. “We are truly blessed and fortunate to have a team each year to be able to win the OVC Championship. But it is just a little different this year now because we’re so hungry and we are not satisfied. We want to get to the NCAA Tournament but win a game and continue to prove ourselves to everybody.”
The victory not only wraps up the OVC Tournament, but the trio of Skyhawk seniors of Butler, Newsome and Megan White’s career in the OVC. The trio won four OVC Tournament titles while defeating their opponents by average of 10.25 points per game in the four tournament championship games.
“There’s a very sad part of this for these guys and us because they’ll never play an OVC game again. But I think all of us are pretty happy to be where we are,” said McMillan.
“It’s meant the world to me,” said White. “These are my best friends and they are the ones that got me the rings. I would never be here if it wasn’t for coach McMillan. It’s been amazing and I’ll take a lot of memories from winning four championships and playing at all the places that we’ve gotten to go and now we get to go to one more place for the NCAA Tournament. So hopefully this year we can win a game and go to that next round.”
Belmont (14-17) placed four players in double figures while placing both Jordyn Luffman and Katie Carroll on the OVC All-Tournament team. Luffman led the way for the Bruins with 16 points while Frankie Joubran tallied 13 points and 10 rebounds. The duo of Taylor Mills and Adrienne Tarrence tallied 10 points each.
“Extremely proud of our team,” said Belmont coach Cameron Newbauer. “We just played one of the best mid-major teams to a 12-point game. I think we played really hard and I couldn’t be more proud of our ladies.”
Newbauer had some words to both Newsome and Butler following the game’s completion. “I told them they can beat somebody,” said Newbauer. “I told them they can win a game. I’ve been at Louisville and Georgia for a long time, and I know what the highest level is and I know you guys can beat somebody. People outside the OVC don’t understand how good they are and how tough they are to play against. I really think, depending on the seed, they can give the right team and the right matchup fits and get a win.”
The Skyhawks jumped out to a quick 11-3 run before Belmont called its first timeout of the game with 17:37 to play in the first. The Skyhawks knocked down a trio of three pointers from Butler, Newsome and Schubert to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders. The Bruins would come out of the timeout by outscoring the Skyhawks 4-2, but UT Martin would retain the lead at 13-7 at the 15:15 mark.
Both teams would slow down offensively over the following four minutes of play as each team tallied five points each. Schubert would knock down her second three-pointer of the day before Newsome would convert on a three-point play coming out of the media timeout to give the Skyhawks the 19-12 lead.
Belmont cut into the Skyhawk lead over the next four minutes, outscoring the Skyhawks 7-5. Luffman led the way for the Bruins, tallying five points during the spurt. Going into the media timeout, UT Martin clung to a slim 23-19 lead with 7:34 to play in the first half.
Once again, Belmont continued to chip away at the Skyhawk margin, outscoring the top seed 8-7 over a span of five minutes. Taylor Mills sparked the Bruin offense by knocking down a pair of three-pointers while Newsome kept the Skyhawks in the lead by tallying seven straight points.
UT Martin would ride a 9-2 run into the halftime break, stretching their lead out to 37-29 following a three-pointer by Karisma Tyson at the buzzer. Newsome led all scorers with 15 points while Luffman tallied 10 points in the first half.
Butler knocked down a three-pointer right out of the shoots to give the Skyhawks their biggest lead of the game at the 19:50 mark of the second. The Skyhawks would come out on a 13-7 run in the opening minutes of the second half as they took the 50-38 lead into the break. Butler would tally five points during the run while Jones and Newsome each tallied four points.
The game kept its back-and-forth pace over the next several minutes with each team failing to tally a knockout blow. The Skyhawks retained their 61-51 lead with 6:37 to play. Belmont saw Joubran score seven of its points, keeping the Bruins within striking distance.
Going into the final media timeout, the Skyhawks clung to a 65-56 lead with 4:08 to play in the game. Mills joined double figures for the Bruins while Tiara Caldwell and Elizabeth Masengil tallied two points each.
With a championship in their sights, the Skyhawks put together an 8-2 run over the course of a minute to stretch their lead out to 74-63 with 1:18 to play. A trifecta by Butler filled the arena with excitement as she moved into a tie for fourth on the NCAA’s all-time career three-point field goals made list with her 389th. The three-pointer also moved Butler into double figures for the 128th consecutive game for her career.
As the clock hit zero and the Skyhawks came out victorious, the clinched their fourth consecutive OVC Tournament championship and fourth NCAA Tournament berth with the 78-66 victory over the Bruins. The Skyhawks will have to wait over a week to discover where and who they will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.