The Skyhawks women’s basketball team moved one step closer to their fifth straight Ohio Valley Conference title Wednesday afternoon after they defeated the Eastern Illinois Panthers, 68-35.
The Panthers came out looking for an upset after coming close last week when the Skyhawks escaped Charleston, Illinois with a 63-60 win over EIU.
Both teams struggled shooting the ball at the beginning of the game until the midway mark in the first half. It wasn’t until Eastern Illinois jumped out to a 13-10 lead that the Skyhawk offense started to get hot.
“I thought [during] the beginning of the game, both teams were a little bit tight,” said UTM head coach Kevin McMillan. “I thought Eastern [Illinois] did a really good job for the first seven or eight minutes, maybe 10 minutes. We were kind of struggling on getting some rhythm, and then I thought Katie’s [3-pointer], which turned out to be her only points in the game were the pivotal point where the game changed.”
The Skyhawks stayed on their offensive grind through the rest of the game, jumping all over their opponent until the final buzzer. UTM shot 43 percent in the game (24-56), 24 percent from 3-point range (5-21) and out-rebounded EIU 43-30. Sophomore forward Ashia Jones finished with 30 points, her ninth 30+ point outing and a new school record. Tiara Caldwell tallied 15 points, eight rebounds and Jessy Ward finished with 12 points.
Not only did the Skyhawk offense show up, but the Skyhawk defense had a big game as well, holding the Panthers to 19 points in the first half and 16 points in the second half. Overall, the Panthers were held to 28 percent shooting (14-50) and 24 percent from 3-point range. The Panther’s 35 points were also the fewest the Skyhawks have given up since Jan. 31, 1978 against Middle Tennessee (35 points).
Senior forward Sabina Oroszova, EIU’s leading scorer and the fourth best scorer in the OVC, was held to zero points after averaging 16.2 points per game during the regular season. The Panthers were led by sophomore guard Phylicia Johnson, who came off the bench for EIU and finished with eight points. After the game, Coach McMillan said that effort was what made the defense so effective today.
“I don’t show our kids a lot of film, we’re probably the least film watching team in the country, but after the game at Eastern [Illinois] I showed them some things,” said McMillan. “I guess they didn’t like the way that looked because it was a much different feel from us in this ballgame.”
The Skyhawks will advance to the semifinals where they will take on the winner of No. 4 Belmont/No. 5 Jacksonville State. Tipoff is scheduled for noon on Friday, but times could change due to the forecasted winter weather.