Updated: Sep 24
Freshman of the year, Ohio Valley Conference Tournament MVP and now OVC Champion, freshman guard Destinee Wells paved the way for Belmont’s return to the NCAA Tournament.
“This is what we came here to do,” Wells said. “I came here to Belmont to win championships. That’s just what we are going to do.”
Wells poured in a career-high 32 points in Belmont’s 83-75 victory over the University of Tennessee at Martin in the OVC Championship Saturday afternoon.
She scored nine of Belmont’s final 13 points in the contest, and her performance throughout the tournament and in the championship game resulted in her becoming the first freshman to win tournament MVP since 2011.
“Destinee Wells is a special special player,” Belmont head coach Bart Brooks said. “This is why I recruited her. She was the reason why her team was really good. This is what we expected from Destinee. I didn’t know she was going to score 32 and lead us to a championship, but it didn’t surprise me.”
Wells did most of her damage in the second, third and fourth quarters, scoring 11,10 and nine points in each frame. Her final nine points were some of the most important as Belmont saw its 19 point lead diminish to just nine, following a UT Martin 14-2 run with five minutes left to play.
“We didn’t handle some of those situations in the fourth quarter well,” Brooks said. “What I am most pleased with is the resolve, the resilience and the toughness to get through that tough stretch. And then come together and finish the game strong.”
Belmont didn’t panic when UT Martin made its late-game run. Instead, the Bruins turned to the freshman that helped get them to this point in the season. And she left no doubt in her performance.
“I was a bit nervous,” Wells said. “We knew they were going to make a run, but we just kept our head up and finished out the game.”
After her performance, in typical Wells fashion, she gave all the credit to her teammates for putting her in a position to succeed.
“I love everyone here from the coaches to the managers,” Wells said. “I am just so grateful to be here.”
On the tournament, Wells ended the week averaging 23 points per game and 5.3 assists. She shot an astounding 51.1 percent from the field and 40 percent from three. Saturday’s title game was the finishing touches on a masterful week of basketball from one of the youngest players on Belmont’s roster.
“Going into every game, I told myself that no one can stay in front of me, so I just took what they gave me,” Wells said.
Along with the MVP award, Wells was selected as a member of the OVC All-Tournament team. She is one of two Belmont representatives. The other is her backcourt teammate junior guard Jamilyn Kinney, who scored 15 points in Saturday’s championship win.
“Kinney is stability, solid, she’s our rock,” Brooks said. “She doesn’t get enough credit for what she does for our team defensively and in huddles. She’s a big-time playmaker, whether the box score reflects it or not.”
Belmont winning the OVC Championship guarantees that the Bruins will represent the OVC in the NCAA’s National Tournament for the fifth time in six years. A feat only two other OVC women’s programs have achieved.
With selection Monday taking place March 15, Brooks is looking forward to something his team hasn’t experienced nearly the entire season – a full week of practice.
“I am just excited more than anything for a full week of practice,” Brooks said. “That is something we haven’t had in a really long time this season.”
With the OVC championship in hand Belmont now sets its sights on winning a game in the NCAA Tournament. And according to Brooks, it’s possible because, as a team, Belmont is still getting better.
“We are just getting better,” he said. “We haven’t peaked, there is a lot more that this team can do.”
This article written by Ian Kayanja.