Following a slow start on offense, Belmont’s defense changed the game as the Bruins cruised to a 74-49 win over Morehead State University at the Curb Event Center Thursday afternoon.
“Morehead is really athletic, they are big and they are physical. They make things really difficult. It took us a while to adjust, but once we got our rhythm we did a good job,” Belmont head coach Bart Brooks said post-game.
Behind the inspiring play of the bench unit that produced 28 points in the contests, and a commitment to team defense, Belmont improves to 12-5 overall and 9-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference, wrapping up another three-games-in-six-days stretch.
Fatigue was evident in the last game of the week as Belmont struggled to produce points in the first frame of action. The Bruins didn’t record a single field goal until the 5:45 mark in the quarter. But despite the offensive struggles of the team, it was none other than freshman guard Destinee Wells who kept Belmont in the game scoring 8 of the team’s 12 points in the quarter.
Entering the second quarter of play, Belmont trailed by three, 15-12. To ignite a spark for the Bruins, Brooks went to his bench lineup of freshman guard Blair Schoenwald, sophomore guard Nikki Baird and sophomore forward Cam Browning to complement Wells and junior guard Jamilyn Kinney.
The group sparked a 13-2 run, and the game flipped on its head going into the half as Belmont led 36-27. In the second quarter alone, Belmont’s bench accounted for 14 points.
The lift Belmont’s second unit gave to the game provided a focus that carried over into the second half of the contest – a focus Brooks hasn’t seen all week.
“We have come a long way since Tuesday,” Brooks said. “In our third game this week I thought It was our best focus and energy we have had today.”
In the second half, Belmont’s defense suffocated the Eagles, holding Morehead State to an abominable 29 percent from the field and 0 percent from three.
The defense also forced the Eagles into 10 turnovers in the second half- seven of which were direct steals.
After Belmont’s win over Eastern Kentucky University on Thursday, Brooks said “the defense isn’t where he wants it to be.”
It’s safe to say that on Saturday against Morehead State, Belmont showcased that the team defense is moving in the right direction. The Bruins held the Eagles’ second-leading scorer, sophomore guard Ariel Kirkwood – who came into Saturday averaging 11.7 points per game – to one point on 0-5 shooting from the field for the game.
The only player to score in double figures for the Eagles was sophomore forward Gabby Crawford, who tallied 15 points. And to thank for that was Belmont’s second-half defense that made everything difficult for the Eagles, forcing them into missteps and mistakes.
“If there was a magic word, I’d be using it a lot more,” Brooks said. “There is growth happening within our team right now. The more we play together and the more we experience the ups and downs of these games.”
For the Bruins, Wells led in scoring with 19 points, shooting 58 percent from the field. She also tallied seven assists and made three three-pointers. Over Belmont’s previous three games, she is averaging 21 points per game and six assists.
Belmont will need all of Wells’ offensive production as the Bruins prepare for a rematch against the University of Tennessee at Martin, a team Belmont lost to on Jan. 26. Tip-off is slated for 5 p.m. at the Curb Event Center on Tuesday.
“Anytime you get to play against UT Martin, you’re excited,” Brooks said. “We are excited about this challenge, but we are going to take a day of rest tomorrow and get back at it on Monday to prepare for Tuesday.”
This article written by Ian Kayanja. Photo by Isaac Wetzel.