It took a career-high 26 points from freshman guard Destinee Wells and a fourth-quarter offensive flurry for the Belmont Bruins to beat Eastern Kentucky University at the Curb Event Center on Thursday.
“[Wells] is one of the most competitive game-time players we have,” head coach Bart Brooks said after the game. “When the game is on the line she’s really good. And she made a big basket down the stretch when we needed it.”
With this game, Belmont improves to 11-5, 8-3 in Ohio Valley Conference competition after closing out EKU 82-73, in a game decided in the final three minutes of the contest.
Nothing was easy for the Bruins as they came off a loss on Tuesday to Southeast Missouri State University. And EKU boasts one of the best scorers in the OVC in Jayla Johnson.
But in the end, a win is a win — even if it may not have been easy for Brooks and his team.
“Nothing about it was easy. Credit to EKU and coach [Samantha] Williams,” Brooks said. “They made everything difficult for us tonight, and it took a lot of big plays down the stretch for us to win.”
EKU’s intensity at the start set the tone for both teams. The Colonels jumped out to an early 17-7 lead, led by their senior forward Johnson, who, by the under-five minute media timeout, scored eight points on 3-3 shooting.
Belmont would counter with a 13-2 run of its own to close the frame. And heading into the second quarter, the Bruins only trailed by one, 21-20.
In quarter two, Wells scored 12 points as she guided Belmont throughout the frame on offense. She shot 4-7 from the field and got to the free-throw line four times, making all of her attempts.
Belmont’s defense shut down EKU. The Colonels were held to 33 percent from the field and 28 percent from three, after shooting 60 percent in the first quarter of play. And by halftime, the Bruins held a 41-35 lead.
The third quarter saw freshman forward Madison Bartley put on a clinic, scoring nine of her 11 points. She shot 4-4 from the field in the quarter and gave EKU a matchup nightmare, grabbing two essential offensive rebounds to pad Belmont’s lead.
Wells also pitched in with six points in the frame as the Bruins held EKU at bay for much of the quarter. By the start of the fourth quarter, Belmont possessed a 63-53 lead, but EKU wasn’t out of the fight just yet.
A difficult layup by EKU’s freshman guard Kendall Wingler gave the Colonels a sign of life with nine minutes left in the game. After a made free throw by Belmont’s Wells, EKU’s Johnson would hit a jump shot to bring the lead within 10. She made another jump shot bringing the lead within five, 64-59.
A made free throw by EKU and a made jump shot by Wells brought the score to 66-60 at the media timeout midway through the fourth quarter.
Both teams would trade baskets until two minutes left in the game with the score tied 73 all. Junior forward Conley Chinn nailed a three-pointer to give Belmont the lead. And the Bruins’ defense didn’t allow EKU to score another basket in the game.
Belmont closed the night out on a 9-0 run and iced the game on free throws.
EKU’s Johnson posted a new career-high of 26 points on 10-18 from the field and 2-2 from three.
Outside of Wells and Bartley, Belmont had two other double-figure scorers in Chinn with 15, and junior guard Jamilyn Kinney with 11 points.
Brooks admitted that the team still isn’t where he wants it to be but everyone is working towards it.
“The defense isn’t where I want it to be,” Brooks said. “But the effort is there.”
Next up for the Bruins is Morehead State University on Saturday at the Curb Event Center. The game will tip-off at 1 p.m.
This article written by Ian Kayanja.