NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee-Martin is heading back to the NCAA tournament for a second straight season - a year older and more experienced.
Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome are the big reason why.
Butler scored 35 points and Tennessee-Martin won a second straight Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship and automatic berth in the NCAAs by beating Tennessee Tech 82-65 Saturday.
Newsome added 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
''Basically, Butler and Newsome decided that they were going to make the plays needed to win,'' Tennessee-Martin coach Kevin McMillan said. ''There wasn't a lot of coaching going on. It was a lot of plays being made by good players.''
Tennessee-Martin (23-8) upset Tennessee Tech a year ago for its first trip to the NCAA tournament. This time around, the Skyhawks came in as the OVC regular-season champs, and they beat third-seeded Tennessee Tech for the second time this season by outshooting them. The Skyhawks shot 52.7 percent (29 of 55) and hit 10 of 20 beyond the arc.
''Last year, we were a young team, and we kind of didn't know what to expect coming to the NCAA tournament and coming to this tournament,'' Butler said. ''I think we have a more better feeling of going to the NCAA tournament this year, especially with this team. We have more of a bond. We know how each other plays on the court.''
They showed it on the court against Tennessee Tech (17-16), which was looking for its 11th NCAA berth. The Golden Eagles led by as much as six twice in the second half but couldn't hang on. Tacarra Hayes scored 23 points, and Jala Harris added 10.
Harris was upset at a second straight loss in the title game to the same team.
''I don't want to ... have the same feeling,'' she said.
That's when Newsome and Butler took over, combining on a 13-0 run over the next 3:29. Newsome got it started with a bucket, then Butler hit two free throws and a layup. Newsome scored the next seven points, with her 3-pointer making it 58-51 with 10:09 to go. Brittany Darling ended the scoring drought with a bucket for Tennessee Tech only to see Butler hit a long 3 before following with two free throws and a layup for the Skyhawks' biggest lead at 65-53 with 8:17 left.
''A couple of them were contested, and they just, they elevated,'' Tennessee Tech coach Sytia Messer said of Newsome and Butler. ''Toughness is hard to teach, and those shots were tough shots.''
McMillan said Butler took over when Newsome got winded during that stretch.
''I don't know what goes through their minds, I don't really pretend to know,'' McMillan said. ''I just know that they can put this team on their shoulders when they have to, and they had to tonight no question.''
The Golden Eagles got within six on a pair of free throws by Harris with 6:09 left. Newsome hit a jumper, and Aubrey Reedy hit a 3 for Tennessee Martin. The Skyhawks pushed the lead to as much as 17 in the final minutes.
- Tennessee Tech
- Heather Butler