The Belmont Bruins beat the Eastern Kentucky Colonels in a 95-63 blowout Saturday to win their first conference championship since 2007.
Belmont never trailed in the game and dominated the boards to secure a trip to the NCAA women’s tournament.
The Bruins have won 16 of their last 17 games after going 8-7 to start the year. The Bruins won their three tournament games by an average of 21 points.
“The adversity we faced and went through and the way we overcame that adversity together is special. It’s a testament to our kids and the maturity they have as people,” said Belmont head coach Cameron Newbauer. “It’s been amazing to be a part of this.”
The Bruins started off hot as a three from sophomore Kylee Smith and a long two from junior Lauren Thompson gave them a 5-0 lead.
Belmont maintained the lead for the remainder of the quarter and led 18-16 heading into the second quarter. Smith had a team-high five points and three assists in the quarter.
After being held scoreless in the first quarter, sophomore Sally McCabe hit a pair of layups early in the second quarter to push the Belmont lead to seven. A 3-pointer from McCabe with less than three minutes remaining in the half gave the Bruins their first double-digit lead of the game.
Belmont closed the first half on a 12-4 run and led 41-26 heading into halftime.
McCabe led Belmont with 10 points at the half. Freshman Darby Maggard played a good all-around first half with six points, three rebounds and four assists.
The Bruins out-rebounded the Colonels 23-13 in the first half.
“Going into this season, I was deathly scared we wouldn’t be able to rebound,” said Newbauer. “We’ve done a good job of coming up with an identity on both ends of the floor for our team.”
Another 3-pointer from McCabe in the second half would push the lead for Belmont to 20 points two minutes into the second half.
A 15-6 run by Eastern Kentucky would bring the lead back down to 11, but scoring by Smith and McCabe kept the lead at double digits.
Belmont went into the final quarter leading 70-53.
A 13-2 run by the Bruins early in the fourth led by junior Frankie Joubran and sophomore Sierra Jones off the bench would put the game out of reach for the Colonels.
It was a team effort for the Bruins as nine different players scored and five reached double-figures in points. McCabe led the way with a 23-point, 10-rebound double-double.
The Bruins shot 52 percent in the game and 57 percent from behind the arc.
Belmont’s bench outscored the Eastern Kentucky bench 29-11. The Bruins also dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Colonels 54-22.
Colonels junior Michaela Hunter led her team with 16 points.
McCabe and Maggard were both named to the All-Tournament team for their performances. McCabe was named the most valuable player of the tournament.
The next step for Belmont will be the NCAA women’s tournament.
“This is a dream come true because we get to go to the NCAA, we get to go dancing,” said McCabe. “It’s exciting to think about the challenge that we have on our hands next.”
Newbauer is hopeful his team can translate the success of this season to the tournament.
“Dreams come true and anything is possible,” said Newbauer. “With this tournament, anyone can win on any given day and it’s all about the draw.”
Seeds for the NCAA women’s tournament will be announced on March 14.