MARTIN, Tenn. – The Ohio Valley Conference’s three-time defending champion University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team opened league play on a positive note, extending the nation’s fourth longest conference home winning streak to 27 games with a 94-83 victory over Jacksonville State in the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center on Thursday evening.
The Skyhawks (4-10, 1-0 OVC) snapped a three-game losing streak behind a total team performance on both ends of the court. After falling behind by seven points early in the first quarter, UT Martin would respond by taking a lead it would not relinquish in the final 34 minutes of play. A big reason for the team’s fortunes was its pressure defense which forced Jacksonville State into 24 turnovers while shooting 46.5 percent from the field on the offensive end en route to a season-high 94 points.
The win moved UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan into a tie for sixth place on the OVC’s all-time wins leaderboard – tying Tennessee State’s Teresa Phillips with 146 career victories. The Skyhawks also improved to 55-5 in the Elam Center since the 2009-10 season.
UT Martin placed six players in double figures for the first time this season with sophomore Myah Taylor leading the squad with 23 points – including six three-pointers. Fellow classmate Emanye Robertson also posted a strong evening, flirting with a triple-double by posting 16 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and five steals. The quartet of Janekia Mason (14), Ashton Feldhaus (13), Kendall Spray (11) and Ansley Eubank (11) rounded out the group.
“I thought the effort was better than it has been lately,” said McMillan. “Anytime you can put six players in double figures, you are going to be pleased. When you play the schedule we have played, it is easy to put your head down and pout. Tonight we came out, attacked and showed a lot of resilience. You want to win all of your home games because it is tough to win on the road. We had a great crowd tonight and we will need that support all year while we continue to grow, gain experience and find success in conference play.”
Jacksonville State (7-6, 0-1 OVC) dropped its second consecutive matchup and ninth straight against UT Martin despite shooting an impressive clip from the field at 54.5 percent while knocking down 16 three-pointers. Junior guard Gretchen Morrison paced the Gamecocks with 27 points – knocking down 9-of-12 three-pointers – while Briana Benson also eclipsed the 20-point plateau with 25 points and five assists. Senior guard Lacey Buchanon rounded out three players in double figures for JSU with 12 points.
The Gamecocks would come out of the gates taking an early lead off a three-pointer by Benson just 18 seconds into the contest before eventually watching the lead balloon to as much as seven following another trifecta by the senior guard. Following the big lead, the Skyhawks would go on a 10-0 run to not only eliminate the deficit, but take a three-point lead of their own. After a trifecta by the Gamecocks, UT Martin would string together another 11-0 run to take a 25-18 lead into the second quarter.
UT Martin would push its lead out to as high as 11 on a pair of occasions in the second quarter following a layup by Feldhaus and a three-pointer from Spray, respectively. Jacksonville State would respond with three trifectas by Benson to cut into the margin before a pair of free throws by the guard in the final minute would cut the Skyhawk lead to 45-43 heading into halftime.
The third quarter would play close throughout with UT Martin narrowly outscoring Jacksonville State 24-21 in the period. Along with the similarity in output, both teams would watch a pair of players dial it in from distance with Taylor and Morrison each scoring nine points in the quarter.
With the Skyhawks holding a narrow 69-64 lead to open the fourth, the squad looked for added separation down the stretch. The squad began the quarter by holding the Gamecocks scoreless for the opening four minutes of the contest while posting a 12-0 run of their own. With the lead reaching as high as 18 points on a pair of occasions down the stretch, UT Martin would cruise down the stretch to a 94-83 victory.
UT Martin will look to defend its home court once again when taking on Morehead State on Saturday, Dec. 31. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and serves as the frontend of a doubleheader with the Skyhawk men’s basketball team. Saturday’s contest also serves as Dollar Night with general admission and select concession items each costing just $1.