For the first time since the 2006-07 season, the Belmont women’s basketball team will play for the conference title after a 65-50 victory over the Jacksonville Gamecocks in the OVC semifinals on Friday.
Junior guard Katie Carroll recorded a career-high 23 points and knocked down five of the Bruins’ six three-pointers on the afternoon.
“We knew we wanted to execute better than the last time we played them. So we really got out there and focused,” Carroll said. “All year we’ve said that some days it’s someone’s turn to step up. We’ve been doing that all year.”
The win for Belmont comes six days after an overtime loss on the road to the Gamecocks.
“We felt like an opportunity slipped away from our hands last weekend. The team wanted to play Jacksonville State and I was excited about that,” Belmont coach Cameron Newbauer said. “If a loss last Saturday means you play for a championship, I’ll take it every day of the week and twice on Friday.”
The Bruins quickly jumped on a 9-0 run in the opening minutes behind four quick points from Carroll and forced the Gamecocks to call their first timeout of the game.
Jacksonville State finally found the scoreboard after Candace Morton successfully sank a pair of free throws with 15:33 remaining in the first half.
After a three pointer from Bria’unna Buckner and basket from Destany McLin cut the Bruins’ lead to one, Belmont would score 11 straight points fueled offensively by Carroll and extend its lead 26-14.
Belmont’s defense silenced the Gamecocks until Sydney Brown hit a layup with 5:35 to go.
The Bruins continued to battle hard and built a 32-16 lead heading into the final media timeout of the first half.
At the end of the half, Belmont headed into the locker room with a 37-23 lead.
The Bruins shot 40 percent from the field in the first half while their defense held the Gamecocks to under 30 percent. The team also committed zero turnovers in the first and outrebounded Jacksonville State by 12.
“We’re really cohesive as a team,” Carroll said. “I think when we get out there and relax we play a lot better. That showed tonight.”
Throughout the second half, Belmont dominated on both sides of the ball and pushed its lead 46-29 in the opening minutes of the half.
Back-to-back threes from Carroll gave the Bruins a 22 point lead, their biggest of the afternoon, with less than eight minutes remaining.
While JSU cut the lead down to 13 behind a huge run with less than four minutes to go, the Bruins proved to be too much as Belmont claimed the 65-50 victory.
With the victory, Belmont advances to take on the No. 1 seed UT-Martin for the OVC title on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We know we have a challenge on our hands. We’re David and they’re Goliath. We’re not supposed to beat them or be in the game,” Newbauer said. “I think we like that opportunity. Sometimes the best things in life are doing what you aren’t supposed to do.”