CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The fourth time was nearly the charm for the University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team against nationally ranked No. 12/13 and No. 4 seed North Carolina on Saturday afternoon, but the Skyhawks final attempt fell just short as the game ended 60-58 in heart-breaking fashion.
The Skyhawks (24-8) led for the majority of the game, changing their game plan which ranked them third in the nation in scoring going into the contest to a patient half-court offense and defensive pressure. Holding the Tar Heels, a team which averaged 80.7 points per game going into the tournament, to just 60 points the Skyhawks liked their chances.
The Skyhawks shot 45.8 percent from the floor in the second half, but came up dry in the second half, shooting just 30 percent from the field. The lead changed hands four times while seeing five ties. The Tar Heels finished the game on a 28-8 run over the game’s final 10 minutes of play.
UT Martin was led by the play of senior Heather Butler who tallied a game-high 19 points on the night, including three three-pointers which tied the NCAA record for career three-point field goals made with 392 which ties Kansas State’s Laurie Koehn from 2002-05. Butler finished with 2,865 career points which moved her into a tie for 16th place on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list and with 129 straight games with 10 points or more. Ashia Jones joined in the action on the afternoon with 18 points and eight rebounds, including 11 points in the second half. Jasmine Newsome and Katie Schubert tallied eight points each.
“I thought that we did exactly what we planned on doing in the ball game,” said UT Martin coach Kevin McMillan. “We wanted the game to stay at 60, in the 60s, and not get out of the 60s. I thought we executed and did everything we wanted to do. We tried to defensively make them get a little frustrated and take some time off the clock and we wanted to try to get to the foul line and keep the rebounding fairly close. Most of those things we did, I though these kids…it was an extremely, extremely large challenge for us because that’s not how we play. We press and we run and we shoot it quick and I think we’re 3rd in the country in scoring. For these kids, especially these two seniors, to buy into changing that for this basketball game was actually unbelievable”
“Oh man, I felt like we played way better than we have been all season,” said Butler. “I felt like that… we fought, we fought, and it’s just really hard to lose that ball game when I know we deserved it you know. We deserved it. We fought so hard and just had it in our hands and there it went. It hurts and it’s going to hurt probably for the rest of my life but you know that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
The Tar Heels (25-9) were led by freshman sensation Diamond DeShields who tossed in 15 points, 13 coming in the second half, before fouling out with 1:34 to play. DeShields was joined in double figures by Xylina McDaniel who tallied 14 points and nine rebounds.
North Carolina knocked down the first two shots of the game, jumping out to an early 4-0 lead. The Skyhawks would begin to get stops from there as Butler knocked down a 15 foot jump shot before hitting a three-pointer to give the Skyhawks the 5-4 advantage. Schubert would pull up on a dribble drive to cap off the 7-0 run for the Skyhawks. UT Martin would lead 7-5 going into the first media break at the 15:37 mark.
The Skyhawks and Tar Heels would each score four points during the next five minutes of play, highlighted by a three-pointer by Butler. The three-pointer at the 11:24 mark moved Butler into a three-way tie for second place on the NCAA’s all-time three-point field goals made list with 391 for her career. UT Martin retained the lead however, holding an 11-8 advantage with 10:49 to play.
North Carolina retook the lead at the 8:58 mark on a jumper by Latifah Coleman, leading 13-11. Elizabeth Masengil would quickly give the Skyhawks back the lead just 48 second later with a three-pointer from the right wing, taking a 14-13 lead into the under-eight media.
With one second remaining on the shot clock, the Skyhawks retook the lead once again following a timeout at the 6:46 mark as Jones rose above the Tar Heel defender off an inbounds pass. Schubert would knock down a three-pointer from the right corner after a UNC answer to give the Skyhawks the 20-17 advantage for the game’s fourth lead change. Another trifecta from Schubert in the right corner just moments later would give the Skyhawks their largest lead at 25-19.
The Skyhawks would use a 13-3 run over the final 4:42 of the first half to take a 35-22 advantage into the halftime break. Butler led all scorers with 13 points while Schubert tallied eight and Jones tossed in seven points. The Tar Heels were led by McDaniel with nine points.
In what would prove to be a strange moment, the scoreboard would malfunction to open the second half, causing a nine minute delay before play would resume. The delay didn’t matter for the Skyhawks as Butler opened the half with a back cutting layup on the first play. The Tar Heels would outscore the Skyhawks 11-9 in the opening five minutes of play, but the Skyhawks clung to the 42-31 lead at the first media timeout.
Jones opened the second half with dominating performances, scoring 11 points in the opening minutes of the second half. The Skyhawks put together a 8-3 run over the four minute span, taking a 48-32 leading into the 10:52 media break.
The Tar Heels would keep up the pressure, putting together a 15-0 run over the course of 5:36 before Butler knocked down a pair of free throws to stretch the Skyhawk lead back to 52-47. DeShields would knock down a 10 foot jumper to bring the game to 52-49 heading into the final media timeout.
North Carolina would complete their comeback on a three-pointer by Brittany Roundtree to regain its first lead since the 8:58 mark of the first half at 54-53. Newsome would knock down a deep three with 1:15 to play to tie the game at 58-58. The Tar Heels would respond with a jumper by McDaniel to retake the 60-58 advantage.
With 18 seconds remaining in the game, controversy struck again as the public address system issued a statement that the campus was on lockdown, forcing the Skyhawks to call consecutive timeouts while preparing for the final play of the game. With the Skyhawks trailing by two, Newsome drove into the paint before hitting an open Karisma Tyson for a three-point opportunity, but the historic upset would not be in the cards as the shot missed wide as they final horn sounded.
UT Martin not only finishes the season 24-8, the best record in program history but says goodbye to three mainstays in the locker room as Butler, Newsome and fellow senior Megan White end their collegiate careers. The trio combined to win 87 games, two Ohio Valley Conference championships, four OVC Tournament championships and four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.