UT Martin upset bid falls short against UNC 60-58
UT Martin coach Kevin McMillan gambled — and nearly won.
When McMillan learned his team would be playing North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament on the Tar Heels' home floor, he walked into his practice to speak to his players about strategy.
"I told them we have three ways to play this — and one of them is crazy. You guys are going to think I've lost my mind," McMillan said.
But his team went for it.
The strategy meant the Skyhawks, the nation's third-highest scoring team, were going to take the air of the ball and slow down the game down against North Carolina.
It nearly worked.
The Tar Heels needed a put back off an offensive rebound by Xylina McDaniel with 56 seconds remaining to overcome an 18-point second half deficit and beat UT Martin 60-58 on Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
McDaniel scored 14 points, even converting a shot from sitting on the floor under the basket.
Karisma Tyson had a chance to win the game for UT Martin but her 3-pointer was off the mark as time expired.
Heather Butler finished with 19 points for UT Martin, tying the all-time NCAA career record for career 3-pointers made. Butler finished her career with 392 3s, tying the mark set by Kansas State's Laurie Koehn in 2005.
But she was left wondering what might have been.
"We fought, we fought, and it's just really hard to lose that ball game when I know we deserved it, you know," Butler said. "We deserved it. We fought so hard and just had it in our hands and there it went. It hurts and it's going to hurt probably for the rest of my life but you know that's the way it goes sometimes."
North Carolina trailed 50-32 with 10:51 left in the game when Diamond DeShields ignited a 15-0 run. DeShields, the conference's freshman player of the year, had 13 of her 15 points during the second half.
After the game, fans were forced to stay inside Carmichael Arena after police announced there was an armed and dangerous person near the campus.
UT Martin was looking to become only the seventh No. 13 seed to advance to the second round.
And for a while it looked like they would.
UT Martin seemed to surprise the taller Tar Heels with their speed and ability to get to the basket in the early going.
Led by Butler, who had 13 points at the break, UT Martin was 6 of 13 from 3-point range in the first half to build a 35-22 lead at the break. UNC was just 1 of 10 from 3-point range in the first half.
UT Martin held DeShields was 0 for 4 from the field in the first half. However, she had 11 points during her team's crucial 15-0 run.
But she didn't have the play of the game.
With North Carolina leading 54-53 with three minutes to go, McDaniel wound up on the floor going for an offensive rebound.
The ball fell into her hands.
She looked around momentarily and then threw the ball off the glass and into the basket. She smiled and laughed as she got up and ran back down the floor.
UT Martin wasn't done though.
Jasmine Newsome knocked down a 3-point with 1:15 left in the game to tie it at 58.
But when Latifah Coleman missed a jump shot, McDaniel was there for the put back and the go ahead points, helping salvage UNC's season.
They will move on to face No. 5 Michigan State in the second round on Tuesday.
The game was delayed at the start of the second half because the scoreboard at Carmichael Arena had to be lowered to the floor to fix a buzzing noise in the sound system. It took about 15 minutes to fix the problem.
The delay didn't seem to bother UT Martin.
They stayed hot in the second half working the ball inside to Ashia Jones, who seemed to score at will in the low post. She finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Butler finished her career as the NCAA's 16th all-time leading scorer with 2,865 points.
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