The women’s basketball team was handed its first home loss since Friday, Dec. 11 by the University of Tennessee at Martin Skyhawks on Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Vadalabene Center. The 85-79 loss put the Cougars in second place in the Ohio Valley Conference and boosted the Skyhawks to number one.

After the opening period, the Cougars led the Skyhawks 21-19 on sophomore guard Donshel Beck’s eight points and sophomore forward Gwen Adam’s seven points.

The Skyhawks opened the period with two straight three-point shots to erase the Cougar deficit. 

A sluggish Cougar offense was sparked after two quick three-pointers from sophomore guard Sidney Smith. A strong defensive stand followed by a contested layup from Adams gave SIUE its first lead since the start of the second period. U.T. Martin countered the Cougars offense with two shots behind the arc in the final 30 seconds to take a 39-34 lead at the half. 

Adams led all scorers with 11 points on four of six shooting. Beck had eight points while pulling down a game-leading seven rebounds. Redshirt senior guard Shronda Butts had four points, four rebounds and four assists for the Cougars. 

SIUE showed its height advantage in the first half, pulling down 23 rebounds — nine being offensive rebounds — to the Skyhawks’ 14 rebounds. The Cougars showed why they are leading the nation in free throws attempted and free throws made, making eight of their nine shots from the charity stripe. However, the Skyhawks used their court awareness for five three-pointers on nine attempts. 

Head Coach Paula Buscher said the Cougars were challenged in facing a team with a playing style the Cougars were not used to.

“We did a great job at times against a very good team who plays a drastically different style than we do. We did great things defensively. On the offensive end, we made some great reads and got some great baskets. Even when we missed, we had great opportunities,” Buscher said.

Adams tacked on her thirteenth point as the Cougars struck first in the second half. Butts found some offense in a corner three-pointer. An SIUE steal and successful three-point play by senior guard CoCo Moore brought the Cougars within one point of U.T. Martin before the media timeout. 

Smith was fouled on a three-point shot before the timeout and made all three free throws after the break to put the Cougars up 45-43. Five straight points from the Skyhawks put the Cougars down 48-45 before a Beck layup and two Smith three-pointers followed by a Butts three-pointer. With less than 10 seconds remaining in the third period, White stole the ball in the backcourt and sprinted toward the basket. After a foul by the Skyhawks, U.T. Martin sophomore guard Shy Cooner was called for a technical foul. Butts and White made two free throws apiece to give the Cougars a 60-53 advantage heading into the final period. 

Beck opened the period with her own offensive rebound and put-back. Moore scored on two layups to give the Cougars their largest lead of the game at 66-53. The Skyhawks countered with a layup and two uncontested three-pointers to cut the deficit to five. Adams was sent to the bench with four fouls as the Skyhawks pulled within one of the Cougars. Butts topped off U.T. Martin’s 12-0 run with a corner three-point shot. The Skyhawks took their first lead of the second half off of two quick three-point shots to go up 71-69 with four minutes remaining.

With one minute remaining, Butts put back an offense rebound to trim the deficit to three, but U.T. Martin hit a three on the next offensive possession to take an 80-74 advantage with 52 seconds remaining. The Cougars were forced to foul, and Cooner split the free throws. A Smith three-pointer, Cougar steal, and Beck jumper brought the Cougars within two points with less than 15 seconds to play. Another Cougar foul, with 12.6 seconds, led to two free throws from the Skyhawks. SIUE threw the ball away on the transition and gave U.T. Martin possession with nine seconds left in the second half. Forced to foul, the Cougars were handed their second OVC loss at 85-79.

Smith said the Cougars will be ready for their rematch against U.T. Martin on Saturday, Feb. 20 in Martin, Tenn.

“It’s important to move on from this and keep doing our thing. We are definitely looking forward to playing against them again. It’s definitely a winnable game,” Smith said. 

The Cougars look to take control of the OVC once again with a home game against Murray State University at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17 at the Vadalabene Center.

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