Belmont’s women’s basketball team shined in Chattanooga, Tennessee, while the men trailed in Athens, Ohio, in the first games of the much anticipated 2021-22 season.
Both basketball teams returned to the court Tuesday night with openers on the road.
Cruising to a convincing 88-70 victory, the women defeated the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in its opening game, starting out on a high note in the Bruins’ final season with the Ohio Valley Conference.
Sophomore forward Madison Bartley led the Bruins with a career-high 21 point. Another standout performance came from sophomore guard Destinee Wells, who scored 20 points along with eight assists and four rebounds.
The Bruins jumped to a dominating 17-point lead in the first quarter and kept the momentum going heading into a 53-34 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, when the advantage began to shift in Chattanooga’s favor, sophomore Tuti Jones downed a three to keep the Bruins in a comfortable two-digit lead.
The Mocs still managed to tighten the margin to 6 points early in the fourth quarter, but Belmont senior guard Jamilyn Kinney snagged a steal to switch possession and set up a 3-pointer for fifth-year forward Conley Chinn, which put the Bruins back on track.
From that moment on, the Bruins outscored the Mocs 15-8 to close the game in winning ways, capitalizing on turnovers with a successful 24 points claimed from defense work versus Chattanooga’s 11.
Belmont’s No. 22 Ben Sheppard on the court in the 2020-21 season. Belmont Athletics / Tyra Finkeldey.
On the road up north, the Belmont men fell short against Ohio University, recording a 80-92 loss in their own season opener.
Though they walked away with a loss, the Bruins topped the Bobcats in free throw percentage, missing only one of their 16, as well as posted more rebounds and turnovers than the opponent.
Junior guard Ben Sheppard stood out for the Bruins, tying his career-high of 25 points along with graduate student Nick Muszynski’s 18 points and six assists.
Fellow graduate student Grayson Murphy also played an exceptional game, putting up 8 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
But it was Ohio’s home team that jumped to an early 16-5 lead, making five of its first six shots, including four from a 3-point distance.
The Bruins responded by tightening the margin to a close 3 points after a 3-point jumper from Sheppard and three straight free throw hoops from graduate student Tate Pierson.
Thanks to a defensive rebound from sophomore forward Frank Jakubicek, Belmont briefly grabbed hold of the lead at 27-25 following a 3-point downer from Murphy.
An initially close first 20 minutes ended with the Bruins trailing the Bobcats 39-44, but Belmont looked to finish the game with a bang and outscored its opponents 13-5 within the first 5 minutes of the second half.
With the lead passing back and forth, the game tied at 58-all with 12 minutes remaining, but with too many missed opportunities by the Bruins, Ohio outperformed its visitors with Bobcat guard Mark Sears leading the way to tally up 27 points in the contest.
The nerve wracking season opener is now out of the way and the men’s basketball team will look to redeem itself Saturday against the Missouri Valley Conference team University of Evansville, welcoming the Bruin nation to its home opener with tip-off set for 4 p.m. in the Curb Event Center.
Up next though for basketball is the women’s on-the-road showdown versus the University of Mississippi as the team travels to Ole Miss for a Thursday night game.
PHOTO: Belmont’s No. 0 Tuti Jones in 2020-21 season game. Belmont Athletics / Tyra Finkeldey.
This story was written by A.J. Wuest. Contributory writing by Jessica Mattsson.