UT Martin women beat Belmont 78-66 for OVC title

TERESA M. WALKER (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press
UT Martin women beat Belmont 78-66 for OVC title
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Tennessee-Martin guard Jasmine Newsome (12) defends against Belmont's Jordyn Luffman (13) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Ohio Valley Conference women's basketball tournament on Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The UT Martin Skyhawks danced a little bit at mid-court enjoying their Ohio Valley Conference tournament title in a bit of a muted celebration.

After all, they have been here before.

And the Skyhawks are ready for more.

Jasmine Newsome scored 25 points, and UT Martin beat Belmont 78-66 on Saturday clinching the Skyhawks' fourth straight OVC tournament title and NCAA tournament berth.

''It's an amazing feeling,'' UT Martin senior Heather Butler said. ''We are truly blessed and fortunate to have a team each year to be able to win OVC championship. It's just a little bit different this year now because we're still hungry and we're not satisfied and we want to get to the NCAA tournament but win a game and continue to prove ourselves to everybody.''

First-year Belmont coach Cameron Newbauer even stopped after the tournament awards were handed out to tell Butler and Newsome, the OVC's top two scorers, they can go win an NCAA tournament game now.

''If he's saying that, and he's coming from Louisville saying that we can have a chance to beat a team, that gives us good confidence for the tournament,'' Newsome said.

The Skyhawks (24-7) won their seventh game in a row and 17th in the last 18 even though Butler, the OVC player of the year, matched her season-low with 12 points, well below her average of 24.1. The senior guard came in ninth nationally in scoring and is the league's all-time leading scorer.

Ashia Jones added 16 points, and Katie Schubert had 12 for UT Martin. Coach Kevin McMillan said he thinks this will be the best team he's taken to the NCAA tournament and is hoping for a No. 13 seed.

''We've got more firepower than we've ever had, and we can come at you in a bunch of different ways,'' McMillan said.

Jordyn Luffman scored 16 points for Belmont (15-17), which was looking for its second NCAA tournament berth and first since 2007. Frankie Joubran added 13 points, and Adrienne Tarrence and Taylor Mills each had 10.

Newbauer and his staff put in a different scheme in shoot-around to try to slow down UT Martin. The Bruins succeeded to a point considering UT Martin had been averaging 93.2 points in league play.

''I'm extremely proud of our team,'' Newbauer said. ''We just played one of the best mid-major teams in the country to a 12-point game, and I think coach McMillan will tell you we gave them fits. We gave them a great challenge.''

The biggest edge came with the Skyhawks taking the game's first 14 free throws and finished 15 of 18 at the line compared to 6 of 7 for Belmont. UT Martin outshot Belmont 51.9 percent to 39.4 percent, though the Skyhawks made only one more field goal and one more 3-pointer.

Newbauer said they tried to be physical inside and just didn't get the calls. McMillan said UT Martin needs the game to be called tightly.

''We started being more aggressive especially in the second half,'' McMillan said. ''We need to get to the free throw line. We don't necessarily have a tremendous inside game. Ashia's very good for us, but that's about all we've got. The free throws are inside points to us.''

The Skyhawks used three straight 3s to jump out to an early 13-3 lead.

UT Martin got a scare early when Newsome drove the lane and was fouled, sending her over a couple ball girls and a press table at the end of the court. She said she was trying to jump over the girl but didn't notice the table.

The Bruins pulled within 28-27 on a 3-pointer by Taylor Mills with 3:30 left in the half. UT Martin finished the half on a 9-2 run with Karisma Tyson just beating the buzzer with a 3-pointer from the right corner for a 37-29 lead.

UT Martin opened the second half hitting its first six shots. Schubert's 3 with 15:09 left gave the Skyhawks' their biggest lead at 53-38. Belmont got as close as seven down the stretch, the last at 68-61 on a jumper by Tarrence with 3:05 left.

Butler then hit a 3 that padded UT Martin's lead. Schubert added a 3-pointer to help the Skyhawks finish off the win.

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