Following a career night for junior forward Conley Chinn, Belmont cruised to a 63-49 victory over Eastern Illinois University at the Curb Event Center Thursday afternoon.
Chinn recorded 23 points and nine rebounds while shooting 10-16 from the field and 2-5 from three. The 23 points for Chinn marked a game high, season high and career high for the junior. She answered every run EIU attempted with a basket of her own and found herself at the center of every big play for Belmont down the stretch.
Chinn’s inspired play captivated the rest of the Bruins, as Belmont grabbed the lead early and held on to it the rest of the way.
“It feels really good, obviously for these kids, all they dealt with this last month. For them to experience a win, and play a really good team,” head coach Bart Brooks said postgame. “It wasn’t pretty, but proud of the effort.”
The game started with EIU winning the opening tip, but immediately Belmont forced the Panthers into an ill-advised shot on defense.
On offense, the Bruins ran a pick-and-roll finding Chinn wide open diving to the rim for an uncontested layup. A turnover on Belmont’s ensuing possession of the quarter led to an EIU three-pointer, as the Panthers took the early 3-2 lead.
Both teams traded baskets for a two-minute stretch in the first, but Belmont closed out the quarter on a 9-2 run. The Bruins’ defense forced the Panthers into six turnovers. At the quarter break, Belmont led the game 16-9.
In the second quarter of action, EIU found holes in Belmont’s defense, scoring 18 points in the frame and shooting 42 percent from the field.
“I thought EIU did a good job of attacking our zone in stretches,” Brooks said.
EIU sophomore guard Lariah Washington scored six of her 12 points in the second quarter, and EIU junior Abby Wahl also scored six of her team-high 14 during the quarter of action.
However, Belmont’s defense managed to hold the Panthers’ leading scorer on the season, senior Karle Pace, to just 3 points, on 1-4 field goal shooting at the half. The suffocating defense helped Belmont build a 31-27. Allowing them to go into halftime with confidence.
“They are a high-powered offensive team,” Brooks said. “I thought we did a good job holding them to a low scoring number so credit to our players.”
To open up the third quarter, no team scored for two minutes. Belmont’s junior guard, Maddie Cook, finally broke the drought with a mid-range jumper to extend the Bruins’ lead to 33-27.
Cook’s layup led to an 11-0 Belmont run, extending the lead to 42-27 with four minutes remaining in the third. EIU answered with a run of its own, pulling the game to within 11 — 46-35 — to end the frame of action.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers put on an offensive flurry bringing the score within six, 48-42, with seven minutes remaining in the game. Belmont remained unrattled and went to a pick-and-roll offensive set to close out the game, Brooks said.
In the end, that proved enough, as EIU could not climb out of the hole Belmont’s intense defense placed them in throughout the game.
Along with Chinn’s career night, Freshman Destinee Wells scored 17 points on 7-11 shooting from the field.
The Bruins also kept the double-digit steal streak alive, tallying 12 in the game, and improving the team’s mark to six-straight games with 10 steals or more. And in a game where Belmont had limited bench production, it was the 24 points in the paint and 24 fast break points that made all the difference.
Belmont now improves to 5-3 on the season and 2-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Next up on the schedule for the Bruins is SIU Edwardsville at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
This article written by Ian Kayanja.