NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team jumped out to an early 12-point lead in the first quarter before falling victim to hot-shooting No. 1 seed Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference Basketball semifinals 83-62 on Friday afternoon.
The Skyhawks finish the season with a 12-19 record after going 8-8 in OVC play while earning a spot in at least the OVC Basketball Championship semifinals for the seventh time in the last eight season. With the loss UT Martin moves to 13-4 in the tournament field since 2010 after posting a streak of 11 consecutive victories from 2011-15.
UT Martin jumped out to a hot start, shooting 70.6 percent in the first half before struggling over the final three quarters by shooting at just a 36.5 clip. The Skyhawks were led offensively by the play of junior Janekia Mason who tallied 23 points and a career-high 15 rebounds for her third career double-double. Mason’s 23 points ranked as the second-most points during her career while her 15 rebounds marked the most by a Skyhawk since the 2013-14 season. Recently named OVC Freshman of the Year Kendall Spray also posted a big contest, tallying 18 points on the day.
“Well I thought that we outplayed them early and I told our kids going into the game, that my fear was that we didn’t set the foundation throughout the regular season to handle what you are going to need in the tournaments,” said UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan. “So what you saw was when we had a little adversity thrown our way, we didn’t handle it very well.”
“I think Janekia and Kendall stepped up and did about all you could ask them to do, but we needed more than two people,” McMillan continued. “We know the formula that Belmont doesn’t like but we weren’t able to sustain it. Give Belmont credit though, they are the most talented team that’s been in the OVC since I’ve been here – top to bottom – and I wish we could have done some more things to bother them.”
Belmont (26-5) pushed its winning streak to 20 games with the victory while securing a spot in the OVC Basketball Championship title game for the second straight year. The Bruins placed four players in double figures led by their three All-OVC first team selections in Sally McCabe (27 points), Darby Maggard (18 points) and Kylee Smith (16 points). Jenny Roy also scored in double figures, tallying 14 points and eight rebounds.
Both teams would start the game with runs as Belmont came out of the gates on a quick 5-0 run. After missing its first two shots, UT Martin would respond with a 10-0 run of its own to hold a lead as high as five points midway through the first quarter. The Skyhawks would stay hot in the first, shooting 70.6 percent in the period alone to take a 25-17 lead into the second quarter.
UT Martin would push its lead out to as much as 12 midway through the second quarter as Spray banked in a three-pointer from the right wing. The Bruins would counter however, scoring five consecutive points to make it a seven-point contest heading into the media timeout. Back-to-back three-pointers by Smith and Maggard would then cut the margin down to one point, capping off an 11-0 run. After weathering a fierce Belmont comeback attempt, both teams would head into the locker room tied at 36 points apiece.
Belmont would look to take control of the contest out of the halftime break. The Bruins would open the third quarter by outscoring the Skyhawks 15-5 while making five of six shot attempts heading into the media timeout. UT Martin would later trim the deficit back down the final minutes to 10 points, but would trail 58-48 heading into the final quarter of play.
The margin would remain steady through much of the fourth quarter until Belmont posted a 13-2 run over the final minutes to push its lead out to as high as 24 points. The run proved to be too much to overcome as the Skyhawks fell short 83-62.