The Belmont Bruins beat the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Cougars 92-68 Friday to advance to the finals of the OVC tournament.
Belmont jumped out to an early advantage with hot shooting from behind the arc and pulled away in the fourth quarter to secure a trip to the conference finals for the second time in three years.
“Our staff has done a great job of building our kids and helping them develop throughout the course of the season,” said Belmont head coach Cameron Newbauer. “March is when it matters most and I think our players trusting in us, trusting in each other and trusting in themselves speaks volumes.”
The game was a stark contrast to the previous game between the two teams, which saw the Cougars win at home against the Bruins 73-60.
“A lot has changed since that game as we’ve proven with our conference record and today too,” said sophomore Sally McCabe. “We’re right where we want to be.”
The teams traded the lead back-and-forth to start the game.
The Bruins took their first lead of game three minutes in off free throws by McCabe. McCabe scored the first nine points of the game for Belmont.
Belmont went on a 13-4 run to end the first period capped off by a three-point play by freshman Jenny Roy with a minute remaining. The Bruins led 20-13 heading into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, freshman Ellie Harmeyer came off the bench for the Bruins and hit three 3-pointers in a two-minute span to push the Belmont lead to 12.
The 3-pointers began to rain for the Bruins as they combined for seven in the second quarter. Belmont shot 80 percent from behind the arc in the first half and had five different players hit a three.
“We ran the floor, we moved and my teammates got me the ball,” said freshman Darby Maggard. “We had a lot of people hitting shots today and it was a real team effort.”
Belmont led at halftime 47-33.
The hot shooting for the Bruins would continue in the third quarter as they made five of their first seven shots of the period to stretch the lead to 19 and force a timeout from the Cougars.
SIUE would cut into the lead, but Belmont stayed ahead by double-digits and led by 13 heading into the final period.
Belmont controlled the game in the fourth quarter as they pushed the lead up to 28 points in the final two minutes of the game.
Belmont dominated defensively throughout, recording five blocked shots as a team. OVC Player of the Year Shronda Butts was held to 16 points and shot 33 percent from the field.
“The resilience, the toughness and the character these ladies have shown and continue to become is incredible,” said Newbauer. “I’m proud.”
McCabe led all scorers with 21 points. Maggard finished with an 18-point, 10-assist double-double.
SIUE sophomore Donshel Beck led her team with 20 points and nine rebounds.
The Bruins will advance to play the Eastern Kentucky Colonels Saturday with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Tip-off is scheduled for noon.