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Hoops in the Heartland: Women's Basketball Recap


Photo courtesy of Landen Secrest

During the 2022-23 season, Belmont women’s basketball fell just short of winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in its first year playing in the conference.  


This year, they wanted to finish the job. 


The Bruins entered the tournament on a six-game winning streak and came away with a victory in eight of their last nine games. 


Despite the hot finish to the season, Belmont would have to continue on without star guard Jailyn Banks, who took home the MVC Freshman of the Year award, along with All-MVC Third Team and MVC All-Freshman team honors. 


As the No. 2 seed, the Bruins took on the No. 7 seed UIC Flames, who were far from an easy matchup. 


The entire game was back-and-forth with the largest lead of the first half being an eight-point lead for the Bruins midway through the second quarter. 


At the end of the first half, junior forward Kendal Cheesman unloaded a 3-pointer from the top of the key and buried it.  


But she could not get the ball out of her hands in time as there were only 0.6 seconds on the clock when she caught the inbound pass.  


Those three points that were waved off would loom large for the rest of the game as Belmont took a 39-35 lead into the half. 


The Bruins started the fourth quarter up 55-45, but UIC went on a 16-4 scoring run and took their first lead since the second quarter late into the fourth. 


But the Flames lost that lead when MVC All-Defensive Team member Tuti Jones took over on both ends of the court. 


Jones struggled offensively through three quarters but had seven points in an 8-0 Belmont run late in the fourth.  


 She was also as sharp as ever defensively, finishing with an MVC Tournament record-tying seven steals. 


Belmont still struggled to put UIC away, shooting just 10-23 from the free throw line on the night, but in the end, they won 70-65 against an aggressive and scrappy UIC team.

 

Junior forward Tessa Miller was a consistent force of the Bruins’ offense as her 18 points trailed just the Flames’ Danyel Middleton, who finished with 19. 


The Bruins’ game against the Missouri State Lady Bears in the semifinal seemed like it was destined to be an offensive shootout. 


Kendal Cheesman started the game 3-3 from beyond the arc within just five minutes of the game. 


However, the team would go ice cold. 


Belmont had a scoreless stretch that lasted over seven minutes spanning the second half of the first quarter into the early parts second.  


But Tessa Miller was finally able to score a pair of free throws, breaking that stretch.  


This was not Belmont’s only drought either as the team struggled offensively the entire game. 

Sophomore guard Emily La Chapell was instrumental in ending these droughts with important hustle plays, finding her teammates open for good scoring opportunities and even scoring herself.  


But The Bruins were ultimately unable to overcome these droughts, falling to the Lady Bears with a final score of 63-48. 


The Bruins’ 48 points were the lowest they scored all year with their second worst scoring performance coming against the very same Missouri State team earlier this season where they scored just 54 in a 19-point loss.  


Missouri State’s Lacy Stokes, who won the MVC Newcomer of the Year award along with All-MVC Second Team honors, pestered the Bruins on both ends of the court all day. 


She finished with a game-high 21 points offensively, but also had four steals, multiple tipped passes and forced fouls defensively, all while not turning the ball over a single time. 


Despite the Bruins fall short of their goal, head coach Bart Brooks said he isn’t looking back on this season as a disappointment.  


“It’s been a pleasure to compete alongside these girls,” Brooks said. “These players have been the most fun group I’ve had to coach since I’ve been at Belmont. They do everything they ask. They bust their butts. They care about each other.” 


The Bruins will have to wait another year before they have the chance to win their first Missouri Valley Conference Championship. 


But Brooks said he’s confident they can find a way to hoist the championship.

  

“We have two choices to make when we go through a struggle. We can either sit there and cry or we can get the full benefit of the experience,” Brooks said. “We made that choice a long time ago. This is an opportunity for us as a group to collectively come together.”  



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This article was written by Nick Rampe

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