The Belmont Bruins beat the Tennessee State Tigers 68-60 in the first round of the OVC tournament Wednesday to advance to the conference semifinals for the fourth year in a row.
A combination of hard work on the offensive boards in the first half and hot shooting in the second half helped lead Belmont to victory.
This was the third matchup between the Bruins and the Tigers this season and the third Belmont victory.
“Anytime you have to beat someone three times in a year, that’s tough,” said Belmont head coach Cameron Newbauer. “It was one of those games where a shot here or there can change the game completely.”
The Tigers jumped out to an early lead and kept Belmont at bay for the first five minutes of the game.
A layup inside by sophomore center Sally McCabe gave Belmont its first lead of the game almost six minutes into the first quarter.
Belmont ended the first quarter on a 16-0 run and went into the second quarter with a 22-10 lead.
Offensive rebounds were a big factor for the Bruins in the first quarter as they grabbed seven of them for eight second-chance points.
McCabe led all scorers with 10 in the first period.
The second quarter started off slow as neither team scored for almost three minutes to start the period.
A 3-pointer and layup from Tigers junior Maxine Beard on consecutive possessions brought Tennessee State within six points heading into halftime. The Bruins led at the half 27-21.
3-pointers came at a premium in the first half for both teams as they combined to go 2-18 from behind the arc. Sophomore Sierra Jones hit the only three of the first half for Belmont.
McCabe left the game in the third period with a right ankle sprain, though she would return in the fourth and finished as Belmont’s leading scorer with 18 points.
“For the first couple of minutes, all I could think of was the pain,” said McCabe. “It’s tournament time, you’ve got to get up and keep playing.”
The Tigers took advantage of McCabe’s absence and cut the lead down to one with five minutes to play in the third, but a pair of threes from freshman guard Darby Maggard brought the Belmont lead back up to seven. Maggard scored 10 points in the quarter and finished with 16 for the game.
“I came in, made reads and took the open shot and they happened to go down,” said Maggard.
Belmont went into the final quarter with a 10-point lead.
The Bruins stretched the lead to as much as 15 points in the fourth and never led by less than eight for the entire final period.
The Bruins shot 60 percent from the field in the second half after shooting just 32 percent in the first.
“I think they were trying to key a little more on our inside game, which gave us some better looks on the perimeter,” said Newbauer. “Darby made some big shots and reads. It wasn’t plays we called. She just made some reads and took the big shots at the right time and knocked them down.”
The Bruins outrebounded the Tigers 44-32 in the game.
Tennessee State senior guard Brianna Lawrence finished with a game-high 22 points.
With the win, the Bruins are the only women’s basketball team in the OVC to win at least one conference tournament game each of the past four seasons.
Belmont’s next game will be in the semifinals of the OVC tournament Friday against the winner of the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and Southeast Missouri University game Thursday. Tip-off for the Belmont game is scheduled for 2 p.m.