MARTIN, Tenn. – Despite a season filled with injuries and youth, the University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team pulled off a thrilling 83-82 victory over Ohio Valley Conference rival Murray State on Saturday evening to clinch the No. 4 seed in the upcoming OVC Basketball Championship next week.
The Skyhawks (11-18, 8-8 OVC) notched the program’s eighth consecutive season with at least a top-four seed in the OVC Basketball Championships while marking the third time the squad will enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed after winning seven of their final nine contests down the stretch.
UT Martin would post one of its best shooting performance of the season by posting a 52.4 percent field goal percentage and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. The Skyhawks drained 10 three-pointers while dishing out 15 assists.
Needing a big game in the post, the Skyhawks would find one from junior Janekia Mason who tallied a career-high with 24 points while tallying seven rebounds. Senior sharpshooter Jessy Ward also left a mark on Senior Night by tallying 20 points and four assists. The Skyhawks totaled four players in double figures with Ashton Feldhaus (16 points) and Myah Taylor (10 points) rounding out the quartet.
“It has certainly been an up and down season,” said UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan. “Our fans have been with us through thick and thin. We have led the conference in attendance and this year we will again. It is so nice that they do that and we just hope that we put out a product which our fans can be proud of. We need to get better and become more consistent but that is what we will work towards as we move forward.”
Murray State (15-14, 7-9 OVC) posted an impressive comeback in the contest, recovering from an 11-point deficit and ultimately taking a lead late in the contest. The Racers were led by Ke’Shunan James who posted 29 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals in the contest. Abria Gulledge (17 points), LeAsia Wright (14 points) and Bria Bethea (14 points) also scored in double figures.
Both teams would come out of the gates with a lot of offensive firepower in the opening quarter of play. The Skyhawks would outscore the Racers 25-20 in the first 10 minutes behind 12 points alone from Feldhaus to get the squad off to a hot start while the duo of James and Bethea combined to score 14 for the Racers.
The Skyhawks would watch their lead balloon out to 11 points early in the period as Ward opened it up with a three-pointer. The margin would continue to fluctuate down the stretch of the second quarter as the Racers cut the lead down to three off both a layup by Wright and three by Bethea. The Skyhawks would end the first half on an upswing however, taking a nine-point lead into halftime following a three-pointer by Ward to give the home squad a 54-45 advantage.
Murray State would post a strong third quarter to cut back into the margin, outscoring UT Martin by four points. The Racers would cut the Skyhawks deficit to as close as two points during the period following a layup by James with just under five minutes to play in the period. With the margin trimmed close once again, the Skyhawks would look for a little cushion down the stretch by taking a five-point lead into the fourth.
The Racers would stay on the attack in the fourth quarter, looking to take their first lead since the opening quarter. After a layup by Mason to start the period, the Racers would score five straight points to cut the margin down to two points. The squad made another push in the final three minutes by stringing together a 7-0 run to take a three-point lead with 1:50 to play. The Skyhawks would remain resilient by taking a late one-point lead off an and-one by Mason with 23 seconds to play to come away with an 83-82 victory.
UT Martin will return to action in the OVC Basketball Championship against No. 5 seed Austin Peay on Thursday, March 2. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville.