Nashville, TN – For the fifth consecutive year the University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team will compete for an Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament after outlasting Belmont 71-65 in today’s semifinal showdown.
The Skyhawks (22-9) picked up the squad’s 18th consecutive victory while improving upon the team’s perfect OVC Tournament record under head coach Kevin McMillan at Municipal Auditorium. The top seeded Skyhawks advanced in the field after knocking off preseason favorite Belmont for the second time this season.
The highly anticipated contest saw both teams shoot above 45 percent from the floor while watching the lead change hands on four occasions and seven ties.
Despite Belmont winning the battle of the boards and knocking down 10 three-pointers, the Skyhawks were able to capitalize on just four turnovers while finding a near record setting performance from their sophomore post.
Ashia Jones continued to shine in her second OVC Tournament appearance, upping her scoring from Wednesday by nine points while scoring 39 points – falling just two points of the single-game tournament record set by former teammate Jasmine Newsome. Along with her impressive scoring performance, she broke the school’s single-season field goals record set by Heather Butler in 2011-12 with 275 baskets this season.
Despite the huge performance from Jones, it was a three-pointer from Jessy Ward on the left wing with 33.5 second remaining which proved to seal the team’s victory. With Belmont riding momentum of back-to-back three-pointers, Ward’s prayer with the shot clock expired capped off the day’s scoring.
Belmont (14-17) saw its tournament run come to an end despite placing four players in double figures and winning the battle of the boards by nine. Included in their efficiency, the Bruins notched 21 assists on the team’s 25 field goals while Jordyn Luffman-Hartsfield led the team with 17 points off the bench. Katie Carroll (15), Frankie Joubran (11) and Lauren Thompson (10) also posted solid performances on the day.
Both teams would come out of the gates with intensity as neither team’s lead got higher than two points while finding success from their respective post players. Heading into the first stoppage in play, both teams would flood the post as they combined to score 12 of the game’s 17 points. For Belmont it was the duo of Thompson and Sally McCabe who tallied four points each while Jones notched five and Tiara Caldwell tossed in four for the Skyhawks.
With both teams turning to their bench depth, the Skyhawks would continue to push forward, piecing together a 6-2 advantage to push their advantage out to five points. The Bruins would cut the deficit back to one following a three-pointer from Luffman-Hartsfield from the top of the key before eventually taking the 19-17 lead with another on the following possession. The senior would notch her third trifecta off the bench to give Belmont a 24-21 lead at the 9:05 mark.
From there the Skyhawks would string together a 7-0 run, retaking the lead after holding the Bruins scoreless for over three minutes of play. After snapping Belmont’s scoreless streak off a bucket from Joubran, Katie Schubert would knock down back-to-back three-pointers to push the Skyhawks’ advantage out to eight.
The Skyhawks would take a 38-34 lead into the break as Jones led all scorers with 17 points. For the Bruins, Luffman-Hartsfield led the squad with 11 points while Joubran and Thompson chipped in eight to pace the squad.
Both teams would open the second half with a significant offensive push. With Jones’ second field goal of the second half and her eighth of the contest, she broke the program’s single-season record for field goals made, topping the mark set by Butler during the 2011-12 season.
A pair of surges by both teams would see the lead trimmed to two points by the Bruins before the Skyhawks answered by pushing its margin back to six points with under 12 minutes left in the contest. Three players would score for both teams during the span, including eight points for Jones while Carroll tossed in six points for the Bruins.
Even play would continue over the following four minutes, seeing the Skyhawks narrowly outscore the Bruins 8-7 during the span. Jones would once again make the difference for the Skyhawks, scoring six points while notching her team record 10th 30 point outing of the season.
Struggling to find a wealth of separation, the Skyhawks would push their lead out to as high as 10 points for the first time in the contest at the 3:52 mark off yet another bucket by Jones, giving the sophomore her 37th point of the contest.
Belmont would trim the lead to just three with 2:01 left to play following back-to-back three-pointers from Carroll. The Skyhawks would answer with a three-pointer from Jessy Ward as the shot clock expired to take a six point lead with 33.5 seconds to play to seal the 71-65 victory.