Tennessee-Martin wins Ohio Valley, earns school's first NCAA berth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Martin is headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, and coach Kevin McMillan has no doubt that his players really don't know what they've done yet.

The good thing?

"They know that they don't have a clue," McMillan said with a laugh.

Jasmine Newsome scored 24 points to lead five players in double figures and Tennessee Martin won its first Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship with an 82-76 victory over regular-season champ Tennessee Tech on Saturday.

Tennessee Martin might be best known as Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's alma mater, a program that worked its way up from NAIA up to Division I.

Now the second-seeded Skyhawks (21-10), who have nine freshmen on the roster, have won their first OVC title in their third time in the championship game. The Skyhawks played for the title in 1998 and 1999.

"We're the youngest team in the country, and I don't know that it's close," McMillan said. "I really don't. We have two years' of collegiate experience. For these kids to be able to do what they did really tells you a lot about what they're made of, period."

This is just McMillan's second year at the school that didn't join the OVC until 1992. He coached Henry County High to a Tennessee State title in 2009 then took over the Skyhawks and got busy recruiting.

With his crop of freshmen this season, he scheduled a brutal 10-game road trip that included visits to Colorado, Vanderbilt and Louisville.

"We gambled and took a chance, and it paid off," McMillan said.

Now the Skyhawks are hoping to make more school history after having won five straight and eight of nine.

"We don't know at all what to expect because we're probably going to end up playing a big team," said Heather Butler. "We've just got to go out there and give it our all and play for 40 minutes."

Butler, the nation's top scoring freshman, had 21 points for the Skyhawks, Taylor Hall added 13, Alecia Weatherly, the lone senior on the roster, had 11, and Perica Glenn 10.

This was the 19th time for Tennessee Tech (23-7) in this title game, but the Golden Eagles missed a league-best 10th title. Tennessee Tech coach Sytia Messer congratulated the Skyhawks on the work they've done.

"We want that rivalry with them," she said.

Tacarra Hayes had 33 points for Tennessee Tech, while Molly Heady added 14 and Kylie Cook 11.

The Skyhawks barely outshot Tennessee Tech, but they really made Tennessee Tech pay for its turnovers. They outscored the Golden Eagles 24-7 on 12 turnovers and had a dominating edge at the free throw line, making more shots there (25 of 29) than Tennessee Tech attempted (14).

"The telltale of this game was, if you look, we only attempted 14 free throws," Messer said. "Our goal was 20-plus. I felt we settled for the jumper a tad bit too much. Overall, we fought hard and I am proud of my young ladies."

The Golden Eagles also couldn't overcome cold shooting in the first half, when they hit just 33.3 percent (11 of 33).

Tennessee Tech scored the first four points with Brittany Darling getting a couple layups. Butler hit a pair of free throws to tie it up, and Tennessee Tech tied it up for the last time at 10-10 on another layup by Darling.

Newsome hit a jumper in the paint with 11:30 left to put Tennessee Martin ahead to stay. Tennessee Martin led 34-25 at halftime and pushed that lead out to 17 points in the second half.

Tennessee Tech made it interesting late as Hayes hit a 3 and Kylie Cook hit another 3 with 1:27 left to pull the Golden Eagles within 74-67. Heady's 3 with 15.3 seconds left trimmed it to 80-73.

But the Skyhawks hit all 12 of their free throws in the final 2:50 to clinch the title.