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Southern Indiana women top UT Martin 81-53 to win OVC but Skyhawks NCAA bound

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Vanessa Shafford scored 15 points to lead Southern Indiana to the Ohio Valley Conference championship on Saturday but Tennessee-Martin is headed to the NCAA Tournament despite losing 81-53.

The Screaming Eagles are in the second year of the four-year reclassification to Division I and are ineligible to play in the NCAA Tournament. They will take a 10-game winning streak into the WNIT.

Triniti Ralston and Chloe Gannon each scored 14 points for Southern Indiana (24-6), which won the OVC by six games at 17-1 after going 6-12 in its first season. Meredith Raley added 13 points.

The Screaming Eagles made eight NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, reaching the Elite Eight in 2001 in coach Rick Stein's 25 years.

“So proud, so happy. We worked so hard, it's fun to see the smiles on their faces,” Stein said. “And to be able to celebrate in front of our home crowd. Amazing.”

UT Martin (16-16) is going to the Big Dance for the first time since a four-year run through 2014 despite falling to 4-9 in OVC title games. Short-handed all year, coach Kevin McMillan elected to rest four starters, and leave the minutes to his other six players, including two freshmen who did not score all season.

One of those freshmen, Amari Bonds playing in just her seventh game, poured in 26 points in 31 minutes as the only non-starter for the Skyhawks. Mah Minthe had 12 points. Sophie Singleton scored the first four points of her career in her 15th game.

Love Mays was the only usual starter for the third-seeded Skyhawks, who advanced to the title game and NCAA Tournament by beating second-seeded Little Rock 54-48 in the semifinals.

Southern Indiana used a 9-0 run early and led 17-8 after one quarter. A 7-0 run in the second quarter helped push the lead to 36-23.

Ali Saunders and Addy Blackwell had 3-pointers as the Screaming Eagles broke the game open by scoring the first 10 points of the second half for a 46-23 lead.

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