Run to NCAAs falls falls short for UALR

EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- The University of Arkansas-Little Rock women's basketball team needed one win to reach the NCAA Tournament.

But the Trojans failed to do so as Tennessee-Martin pulled out its second win in as many nights with a 54-48 victory over the Trojans in the semifinal round of the Ohio Valley Tournament on Friday afternoon at the Ford Center.

Jayla Brooks led all scorers with 18 points, including nine in the fourth quarter on 3 three-pointers that kept the Trojans in the game. Faith Lee and Jordan Holman each finished with seven points.

"I thought it was a good ballgame as far as the defensive battle," UALR Coach Joe Foley said. "Both teams knew what each other were going to do. They made a couple there at the end of the game and that's what it comes down to."

The tournament champion earns the OVC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. But Tennessee-Martin will get the bid regardless of the outcome of today's championship game against Southern Indiana. The Screaming Eagles, the top seed in the OVC Tournament, are ineligible an NCAA bid as they remain in the transitional stage for entering Division I.

UALR jumped out to an 11-5 lead early, but Tennessee-Martin cut the cap to 11-9 by the end of the first quarter. Holman (6) and Brooks (5) scored all the points in the first quarter for the Trojans.

The Skyhawks took control defensively in the second quarter, holding UALR to three points in the quarter and taking a 19-14 halftime lead.

"Joe's teams execute so well," Tennessee-Martin Coach Kevin McMillan said. "His motion offense is virtually impossible to guard. They are going to get shots, you just have to try and make them tough. They were getting some shots and they were missing them, but we were able to keep them out of the paint. I thought that ended up being the difference."

The Trojans shot 35.3% (18 of 51) from the field and 28.6% (4 of 14) on three-point attempts. The Skyhawks were not much better, shooting 38.1% (16 of 42) from the floor, but they made 18 of 20 free throws.

Brown scored a team-high 15 points for the Skyhawks, while converting on 7 of 8 free throws. Kenley McCarn finished with 12 points and Lexi Rubel added 11 on 4-of-6 shooting.

UALR started off the second half with a quick 6-0 run to take a 20-19 lead before McCarn answered with a three-pointer to give the Skyhawks the lead back at 22-20 with 7:18 to play in the third. A layup from Williams with just under five minutes left in the quarter tied the game at 24-24.

The Skyhawks closed the third quarter on an 11-6 run. Williams nailed a shot at buzzer that was initially counted, but wiped off the board after the officials reviewed the play and ruled the shot clock expired before the shot was released. The game moved to the fourth quarter with Tennessee-Martin up 35-30.

The teams traded baskets early in the fourth and a three-pointer from Brooks at the 6:54 mark cut the Skyhawks' lead to 37-36. UALR regained the lead at 38-37 on a layup from Mesi Triplett, but McCarn again responded with a quick bucket to give the lead back to Tennessee-Martin at 39-88 with 5:44 to play.

The Skyhawks' lead went up to four again, but back-to-back three-pointers by Brooks gave the advantage back to the Trojans at 44-43 with just under three minutes to play. Then a three-pointer by Lexi Rubel gave Tennessee-Martin a 48-46 lead with 1:35 left.

Following two free throws from McCarn, Sha'Nequa Henry made a layup to cut the deficit to 50-48 with 20 seconds to play. The Skyhawks made their free throws late and UALR couldn't get any shots to drop in the final seconds.

While the Trojans fell short of their goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament, Foley credited his team for not giving up despite losing the first 10 games of the season.

"The last two weeks, I thought we got a lot better," Foley said. "I thought these kids gave it all they had. Defensive wise, we got really good. We really worked well together. I wish we had another week, but we don't. I felt like we were just kind of starting to understand what we needed to do."

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