The University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team could not overcome a balanced scoring effort from the visitors from Southern Illinois, dropping the season opener 87-78 on Friday night.
The Skyhawks (0-1) saw three players score in double figures led by the play of All-OVC performer Ashia Jones. Jones picked up right where she left off last season, notching her 21st career game with 20 points or more – including the past 18 consecutive games. Her 29 points and 11 rebounds ranked as a new career high for points scored for the sophomore forward. Jessy Ward made the most of her Skyhawk debut, scoring 19 points on the night and a team-leading six assists while Katie Schubert notched 10 points in the contest.
“Well we tried to find a group that would play hard because we have to have effort,” said UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan. “We put up 78 points and I was worried about us scoring but we couldn’t stop them. We got up early and were in control of the ballgame but then we couldn’t put anything together. We just have to find the right mixture of kids that will learn to play hard and continue the tradition that we have set.”
Southern Illinois (1-0) placed five players in double figures, led by the play of Rishonda Napier who tallied a team-high 20 points. Dyana Pierre was equally as impressive in the low post, tallying 16 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks on the night. The Salukis filled the scoring column with double figure performances from Mercedes Griffin (15), Cartaesha Macklin (13) and Azia Washington (11).
Jones picked up where she left off last season, knocking down a jumper on the first possession of the ballgame to give the Skyhawks an early advantage. Following a put back for the Salukis, Jones connected on another shot before Ward scored five straight points to give the Skyhawks a 9-2 lead. The score would read 14-8 at the game’s first media timeout with Ward scoring eight points at the break.
SIU would post a 17-7 run over the next four minutes, taking a 23-21 advantage into the second media. Griffin would lead the Salukis with six points during the span while Macklin added a pair of baskets to take the lead.
Both teams would grind out the rest of the first half as the Skyhawks would take a slim 47-44 margin in to the halftime break. Both teams were shooting at an impressive mark through the first 20 minutes as the Skyhawks shot 56.3 percent while the Salukis were just as impressive with 52.8 percent from the floor. Ward led all scorers with 15 points while Jones had 14 points and six rebounds at the break. Griffin led all Salukis with 11 points.
The Salukis would take the lead for the duration of the game at the 17:49 mark of the second half as they went on a 9-0 run following a jumper by Shai Warfield-Cross. Pierre would reach double figures during the stretch, scoring four points on the run.
SIU would stretch their lead from a two point margin with 15:46 to play out to eight points over the next four minutes, leading 65-57 at the 11:34 break.
The Skyhawks would get as close as four points on a pair of occasions following a layup by Jones and a trifecta by Schubert with 4:46 to play. Jones would cap off her career evening with a layup with 59 seconds to play to give her 29 points on the night.
UT Martin will have to turn its focus quickly as the Skyhawks travel to No. 11/12 Louisville for a matinee on Sunday, Nov. 16. Action from the KFC Yum! Center is schedule for 1 p.m. CT.