EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Murray State looked ready for the punches UT Martin was sure to dole out in Thursday's OVC quarterfinal matchup at The Ford Center.
And down just one possession after the first quarter, it seemed as though second year head coach Rechelle Turner and her young-no-longer Racers were in for the fight.
But the Skyhawks channeled some next-level toughness in a decisive second quarter, and MSU's season later ended in a 77-56 defeat.
UTM outscored the Racers 19-7 in the frame - thanks mostly to a massive 16-3 rebounding edge overall and an 8-1 spread on the offensive glass.
The Skyhawks turned the extra possessions into 14 second-chance points by the break, and the Racers never really could recover.
"We had a little bit of foul trouble," noted Turner. "But we just got outworked. They were up 15 rebounds on us by halftime, and we looked and they had missed 19 shots and gotten eight offensive boards. So half the shots they missed, they got second chances.
"They're very athletic, and we knew that going in. We just didn't do a good job of rebounding. We knew rebounding was going to be a team effort, and we just didn't get a body on them as much on them as much we should've. But again, a lot of the credit goes to them. They were relentless going after the boards."
It was the second-straight season of tournament action for sophomores Janika Griffith-Wallace (nine points, three assists, three steals, four rebounds) and Brianna Crane (14 points, seven rebounds, two assists), and the first time for the likes of junior forward Evelyn Adebayo (12 points, eight rebounds) and freshmen in Macey Turley (seven points, six assists) and Lex Mayes (nine points, three 3-pointers).
But the Skyhawks got their production from tournament-savvy senior Emanye Robertson (19 points) and two sophomores in Chelsey Perry (20 points) and Zaire Hicks (19 points) - who combined to shoot 23-for-40 from the field, dish 16 assists and grab 16 rebounds.
UTM shot 50 percent from the field, 7-for-12 from the arc and committed just eight turnovers - most of them coming when MSU brought out its pressure to try and get back into the mix.
"This time of year is about defense and execution, and having a bit of grit and toughness about you," said UTM skipper Kevin McMillan. "And I thought our kids did a good job of it."
The Racers certainly showed growth in ball movement and protection on Thursday, committing just seven turnovers against UTM's press.
And MSU also got 15 assists on 21 made baskets, as seven players picked up a dime along the way.
But shooting woes reared an ugly head in the loss, as the Racers finished just 21-for-52 from the field, 4-for-14 from the arc and a tough 10-for-16 from the stripe.
Conversely, the Skyhawks managed to hunt and knock down big shots repeatedly - most of them at the arc. A Hicks triple answered a Crane jumper for a 35-23 UTM lead. A Mayes triple and Griffith-Wallace layup was answered by a Brittni Moore bomb for a 51-34 advantage.
And a Cekeya Mack free throw and transition triple from Turley was erased by a Perry three at the third-quarter buzzer - all but deflating any comeback the Racers could muster. "When the ball is not going in, sometimes it's tough to get your motivation and your confidence up," Turner added. "I do think a lot of this is fatigue. I play six kids, basically, and they have played 35-to-40 minutes all year long. Credit to them for sticking with me and doing that.
"But in doing that, we just don't have enough depth right now. UTM's ability to pressure you like they do - they're long and athletic, and their ability to run people in and out at you - I think mentally and physically wore us down today."
Other than the graduation of lone senior Michaela Manley, Murray State returns its entire core for next season - and with Turner's second true recruiting class will likely be picked higher than last in the league for 2019-20.
But to make it to Evansville after opening league play 2-6 and being projected to finish in the cellar? That's got Adebayo fired up for the offseason.
"It's always good knowing someone says you can't do something and then you prove them wrong and come out and do it," she said. "So yeah, it's definitely a good feeling. Even though it's a sad memory right now, it's definitely something we should be proud of. We shouldn't be satisfied that we just got here, because we thought we could go all the way, but we need to be happy with how far we came, too, to even get here."
UT MARTIN 77, MURRAY STATE 56
Murray State (6) 16 7 15 18 - 56
UT Martin (3) 18 19 19 21 - 77
RACERS - Brianna Crane 14, Evelyn Adebayo 12, Janika Griffith-Wallace 9, Lex Mayes 9, Macey Turley 7, Paige Barrett 4, Cekeya Mack 1.
FG: 21-52. 3PT: 4-14 (Mayes 3, Turley). FT: 10-16. Reb: 27. PF: 12. TO: 9. Record: 13-17 (9-10).
SKYHAWKS - Chelsey Perry 20, Emanye Robertson 19, Zaire Hicks 19, Brittni Moore 9, Demi Burdick 4, Tamiah Stanford 2, Kyannah Grant 2.
FG: 31-62. 3PT: 7-12 (Hicks 3, Moore 2, Perry 2). FT: 8-9. Reb: 39. PF: 12. TO: 8. Record: 22-8 (14-5).