Updated: Jun 27
Next up for Belmont?
The NCAA Tournament.
For the sixth time in seven years, the Bruins are headed to the big dance after a commanding 51-29 victory over No. 2-seeded Tennessee Tech University in Belmont’s final Ohio Valley Conference championship game.
“Our team proved today that we are a championship program,” Belmont head coach Bart Brooks said. “We displayed unbelievable resilience and toughness today, and that’s what winners do.”
Leading the charge, sophomore guard Destinee Wells arrived ready to rule the court, scoring 22 points in her 31 minutes to earn MVP honors for the tournament once again.
As a player who knows the game and steps up when it counts the most, Brooks praised his point guard.
“So much of what she does is the beauty of basketball. It’s a team game, and the beauty of what she’s able to do is if it’s her turn to facilitate, she had multiple 10-assist games, and when it’s her turn to score like tonight, she scored.”
After senior guard Jamilyn Kinney nailed down the first points of the game for Belmont, the Golden Eagles quickly responded, holding onto the lead for the following three minutes of the first quarter.
But Belmont’s defense awoke after junior Nikki Baird forced a big block to prevent the Golden Eagles from furthering their lead with just over four minutes remaining in the quarter.
The Bruins stood firm and grabbed the lead with a layup by freshman Tessa Miller, making the score 8-7.
From there, Wells and sophomore forward Madison Bartley came up with buckets of their own, stretching the Bruins’ lead to five points by the end of the first.
No. 11 Destinee Wells looks for a shot over the head of a Tennessee Tech player in Saturday’s OVC Championship. Landen Secrest / Belmont Vision
In the second quarter, however, the productivity slowed significantly.
Turnovers paired with empty offensive possessions plagued both sides for a low-scoring quarter.
Entering the locker room, Belmont held a 17-14 lead.
Setting aside the first-half woes, the Bruins quickly caught fire for an absolute showdown in the remaining 20 minutes of play.
Belmont immediately started to share the offensive love, effectively shutting down the Golden Eagles’ defense in the beginning of the third quarter.
Wells continued her fruitful scoring with an opening jumper and two 3-pointers, prompting a timeout from Tennessee Tech.
When play resumed, the Bruins continued to tighten their grip on the Golden Eagles, stringing together consecutive defensive stops headlined by two charges taken by fifth-year senior Conley Chinn.
“It’s just incredible to be on the floor playing defense with these girls, especially when we have the fire and energy, making them turn it over, causing bad shots. It’s a great feeling,” said Chinn, who believes defense wins championships.
In the latter half of the third, Belmont’s reserves started to heat up.
“I thought Nikki Baird, Blair Schoenwald, Tessa Miller and Kilyn McGuff gave us a huge lift off the bench and made some big plays,” Brooks said. “They were making shots, getting rebounds, being in the right place and setting good screens.”
Miller provided ways for shooters to get open, helping Schoenwald find space to knock down two huge threes.
Baird and McGuff took over the defensive reins as the Bruins began to pull away.
Starting off the fourth quarter, Belmont led 38-26 with the trophy in sight.
Keeping Tennessee Tech from getting closer, the Bruin defense threatened to hold the team from Cookeville to just six lonely points in the second half.
But Golden Eagles guard Maaliya Owens ended the No. 2 seed’s fourth-quarter scoring drought with just 12 seconds remaining, bringing the final score to 51-29 in favor of the Bruins.
Brooks was amazed at the fact that his team only allowed 29 total points, an amount he would’ve been content with at halftime.
Wells could not feel better about her teammates and their success together, she said.
“I feel great. We work so hard for this all season and just to see it pay off with this great group of girls, amazing teammates. It’s amazing.”
As for Kinney, who is now a three-time OVC champion, she has seen a fair share of success during her time at Belmont.
“I think it’s just something that we’ve gotten used to. It’s just that sweet feeling,” Kinney said.“It keeps getting better every single year.”
As a team, Belmont women’s basketball is not quite finished or satisfied with the season yet as it eagerly awaits the announcement of their next opponent in the NCAA Tournament, a selections party that will be broadcasted on ESPN Mar. 13.
“We’re playing our best basketball right now and I feel we can compete with anybody in the country, so I’m ready to prove it,” Wells said.
As for her coach, he’s ready for his Bruins to take on the toughest teams out there.
“I hope it’s a big guy,” Brooks said. “It’s gonna be someone really good and I can’t wait to compete against them.”
Belmont head coach Bart Brooks cuts down the net to celebrate his Bruins’ OVC Championship victory over Tennessee Tech. Landen Secrest / Belmont Vision
PHOTO: The 2021-22 Bruins after their win against Tennessee Tech in Saturday’s OVC Championship — a victory in Evansville, Indiana, that is sending them to NCAA play. Landen Secrest / Belmont Vision
This article was written by A.J. Wuest and Landen Secrest.