Updated: Sep 24, 2022
An explosive fourth quarter against Murray State University sends Belmont to its fourth Ohio Valley Conference Championship game in five years.
“I am excited. This is what I came here to do, and I am ready for the challenge,” freshman guard Tuti Jones said after the 67-49 win over Murray State in the OVC semifinal.
Belmont utilized a devastating 17-2 scoring run late in the game to pull away from the shorthanded Racers, who had given the Bruins problems all day.
“When we come together and play defense, it leads to great offense,” Jones said. “We knew if we came together and played Belmont basketball, we would end on a good note.”
And the Bruins did, in fact, end on a great note.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Belmont held a seven-point lead, 44-37. And that seven-point lead in this game was a rarity, as the Racers and the Bruins traded point-for-point throughout the first, second and third quarters.
“They gave us fits for the first two-and-a-half quarters of this game,” Belmont head coach Bart Brooks said. “It was as tight as it gets, so credit to Murray State for being prepared.”
Yet, in the final frame of action, everything changed for Belmont. The Bruins and the Racers both played zone defense down the stretch, but the outcomes were drastically different.
The Belmont zone defense held Murray State scoreless for four minutes in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Murray State’s zone defense gave Belmont a bevy of open looks that the Bruins made sure to convert.
“As a coach, sometimes you have an instinct,” Brooks said. “The change in defense helped our team with energy and effort plays and that sparked our run.”
A big proponent of Belmont’s late run was the offensive and defensive play of Jones. She found herself at the center stage of timely baskets and crucial defensive stops, as both her energy and effort helped propel the Bruins late.
“I was just trying to do whatever my team needed me to do,” Jones said. “We are great when we work together when we all come together and do what we need to do. So I was just trying to be there when I could for everybody.”
Jones ended her night with 13 points, eight rebounds and two steals in a grueling 36 minutes played.
A secondary contributor to the late run was junior point guard Jamilyn Kinney. As the Murray State’s zone unraveled, it was Kinney who made countless offensive plays in the fourth quarter.
She recorded eight points, shooting 3-4 from the field and 2-3 from behind the arc in her final eight minutes played. And it was her right-wing three-pointer with eight minutes left that sparked the offensive onslaught the Bruins rode to victory.
“They burned us pretty good,” Murray State head coach Rachelle Turner said. “We mentally shut down defensively and left their shooters open, and they made their shots. We didn’t.”
Basketball is a make or miss game. And Belmont used the gaps in the Murray State defense to find open looks that they converted into points. By the end of the game, Belmont, according to Brooks, “looked more like the team they had been all year.”
Now Belmont turns its attention to the University of Tennessee at Martin, who is waiting in the championship game set to tip-off on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“We want to compete against the best because we want to be the best,” Brooks said. “I am thrilled that we get to stay another night, and prepare and rest and get ready to go again tomorrow to compete for a championship.”
This article written by Ian Kayanja. Photo courtesy of the OVC.