Women’s basketball Falls to UT Martin on Education Day

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill.— Ajulu Thatha collected their ninth doubles-doubles of the season, but UT Martin took the lead two minutes and seven seconds into the contest and led the rest of the way, defeating the Cougars 83-64 in front of 2,023 fans on Thursday afternoon.

SIUE falls to 6-16 in the season and 5-6 in the Ohio Valley Conference game. UT Martin improves to 9-12 and 6-5.

“I think we’re best when we play fast,” said the head coach Samantha Quigley Smith said. “We didn’t do very well today. But the setting was great and a really great experience for our group. Thanks to UT Martin for not allowing us to play as fast as we want.”

It was SIUE’s annual education day, with 13 surrounding schools represented in the crowd.

“The environment was great,” added Smith. “The kids were really loud. We’ll see an environment like today later, hopefully at the conference tournament.”

The Cougars took the first four points of the contest before the Skyhawks responded with a 9-0 run to take the lead. UT Martin kept his foot on the gas in the first quarter, beating the Cougars 23-14.

At halftime, UT Martin entered the dressing room and shot 41 percent (14-35) and 50 percent (7-14) from behind the arc. SIUE shot 38 percent (11-29) and was held at just 25 percent (2-8) from long range. UT Martin took advantage of Cougar turnovers and scored 16 points from 14 turnovers to take a 42-31 lead at the break. The Cougars finished the contest with 26 turnovers.

“We need to sharpen our focus,” Smith said. “We have to be strong and smart in basketball. I think if we play fast and try to get the ball out faster, every time we catch it, we can eliminate some of the defensive pressure.”

The Skyhawks maintained their momentum after halftime, topping SIUE 27-21 in the third quarter to take a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter.

UT Martin took the biggest lead of the competition by 25 points midway through the final quarter. The Cougars, however, finished the contest on a 6-0 run for a final score of 83-64.

“We shifted our focus to getting the ball inside,” added Smith. “We need to be able to break a defender out of dribbling and find scoring chances. We didn’t push the ball inside, but Ajulu was still Ajulu as she was. We just have to be able to find some balance. “

Ajulu Thatha led the Cougars in points and rebounds with 19 and 14 respectively. She has scored in double digits in five of her last six games. She also led the Cougars with three assists and two blocks.

“She was incredibly focused,” Smith said. “We need other players to step up with her for us to be successful, whether it’s defensive or offensive. But we will find her.”

Sophie Lowis also in double digits and contributed 15 points.

Niya Danfort returned to the floor after not passing for the Cougars since Nov. 17 at Purdue. She finished the game with six points and five rebounds.

“It’s great to have Niya back on the pitch,” said Smith. “She had the kind of injury where she could have just said, ‘I’m done for this year,’ but she’s really committed to coming back. She brought herself here, which is great. It will take time for them to get back into the groove of playing five against five. I’m really happy for her.

UT Martin had five players who scored in double digits, led by Shae Littleford’s 20. She shot 7-14 in the contest and was 3-5 from long range. Josie Storey added 17 points while Sharnecce Currie-Jelks contributed 13.

SIUE will be heading to a Saturday meetup with Little Rock. Tipoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m

“We have to focus on ourselves,” Smith said. “Little Rock is doing a great job as a defender this season. It will be difficult for us to score on Saturday but we have to defend on our side.”

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