Updated: Sep 28, 2022
It’s win or go home.
And with the Ohio Valley Conference tournament set, Belmont aims to accomplish what it got so close to doing last season – winning the OVC Tournament Championship.
“Pressure exists every day in our lives as competitors,” head coach Bart Brooks said. “There is definitely an excitement and a feeling of energy and urgency that might not exist in January, but once the ball is thrown up on Wednesday, our team’s focus will be on executing our system and playing the game we love at a high level.”
Belmont comes into the tournament as a two seed after going 17-5 overall, and 14-3 during conference play.
This regular season lacked the dominance of years past for Belmont due to factors out of the team’s control. From Dec. 20 to Jan.18, Belmont didn’t play any games as the team faced the grim reality of postponements or cancelations.
The near-month away from routine basketball operations complicated things for the coaches and players who attempted to find an everyday rhythm during the regular season. Brooks described the situation as “difficult for all of us as there have been so many interruptions and unknowns.”
From that point on, Belmont only dealt with a few disruptions, closing out the regular season on a five-game win streak. And Brooks credits the team’s constant improvement-based mindset as the reason behind the Bruins’ recent groove heading into game one of the tournament.
“In a season where so many things are uncertain, we chose to focus on the priority of working to get better, and hopefully we will be playing our best basketball of the season this week,” he said.
Belmont battles Austin Peay University in a two versus seven matchup in round one of the tournament on Wednesday.
Austin Peay comes into the game with a 12-10 record on the season, and a 10-8 record in conference play.
The Bruins have yet to play the Governors this season due to a game cancellation midway through conference play. And the unfamiliarity of the matchup this season could pose an intriguing round one hurdle for the Bruins to jump over.
“It’s very rare that we play a conference tournament game without having played our opponent during the conference season,” Brooks said. “We will have to make some adjustments on the fly during the game.”
The last time Belmont played Austin Peay came in the opening round of the 2020 OVC Tournament. And in that game, it took all 40 minutes and an overtime period to decide the 76-73 outcome for the Bruins.
Both teams are drastically different now. Belmont is led in the scoring department by freshman star Destinee Wells, who enters tournament play averaging 17.9 points per game in conference play.
Austin Peay is led by sophomore D’Shara Booker and junior Maggie Knowles. Both averaged nine points per game in conference play for the Governors this season.
Brooks asserts that the Bruins and the Governors, though drastically different, carry some similarities in playstyle.
“They are very similar to us in that they have a lot of really talented guards on the floor who all shoot the ball well from the perimeter,” Brooks said. “They combine that with a talented group of post players, so they make it hard to guard the three-point line and the block.”
One similarity between Austin Peay and Belmont is that both like to win games on the defensive end of the floor. Belmont has the second-best scoring defense in the league, holding its opponents to 57.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Austin Peay sits fourth in the OVC in scoring defense, only allowing 58.9 points per game.
Where the teams differ is in scoring offense, Belmont sits first in the league, scoring a blistering 72 points per game. Austin Peay, on the other hand, only scores 62.4 points per game on average, just good enough for ninth in the league.
However, once the tournament starts stats go out the window, and all that matters is beating the opposing team. So heading into tournament week, Belmont’s singular focus is doing what it can do to be better in every game.
“We will focus our efforts on doing what we do better and more efficiently,” Brooks said. “Destinee [Wells] and Jamilyn [Kinney] will have the ball in their hands a lot as they are point guards, but a strength of our team is that multiple players can contribute in scoring and playmaking, that balance has helped us become a very difficult team to guard.”
Belmont is sure to need everyone’s contributions on Wednesday. Tips off against Austin Peay is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at the Ford Center.
Other notable matchups in round one of the OVC Tournament:
(1) UT Martin vs. (8) Eastern Illinois – Wednesday 1 p.m.
(3) Southeast Missouri vs. (6) Murray State – Thursday 3:30 p.m.
(4) Jacksonville State vs. (5) Tennessee Tech – Thursday 1 p.m.
This article written by Ian Kayanja.