Updated: Apr 22, 2022
Belmont’s March Madness run came to an end in the Round of 32 as the Bruins lost a nail-biting battle to in-state foe University of Tennessee Knoxville.
The game came down to the final minute, but the Bruins fell short 70-67 after a shot from Destinee Wells fell short in the last second of the game.
Facing a historically great program in the No. 4 Lady Volunteers, the Bruins did everything but back down.
“When we play it’s not about a name on a jersey, it’s not about a ranking or a number next to a team. It’s about the matchup and the player in front of you,” head coach Bart Brooks said.
With that mindset, the Bruins started the action strong in the Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee scored the first basket of the night, but Belmont responded swiftly with a three-pointer from sophomore Madison Bartley.
Jordan Walker knocked down a jumper to give the Lady Vols lead 6-4, but senior Conley Chinn wasted no time in knocking in one of her famous bank threes to give Belmont a one-point nod 7-6.
As both teams traded baskets, it appeared the back and forth trend would continue.
Rae Burrell quickly answered back for the Lady Vols with a 3-pointer of her own for a two-point edge.
Sophomore Destinee Wells scored the next six points for the Belmont, but the Lady Vols continued to have an answer for every Bruin basket.
After a competitive opening quarter, Belmont trailed 19-13.
The same trading trend continued into the second quarter, but the Lady Vols were just beginning to gain momentum.
Tennessee extended its lead to 12 points after baskets from Alexus Dye, Walker plus an ‘and one’ from Sara Puckett, prompting a Belmont timeout.
When play resumed, senior Jamilyn Kinney immediately knocked down a 3-point basket to chip at the gap.
But Tennessee responded with a quick 4-0 run.
The Bruins were unable to truly cut into the Tennessee lead as missed shots plagued the team for most of the quarter. Belmont struggled to find the basket in the first half, shooting just 9-36 from the field.
To end the quarter, Madison Bartley connected on a 3-pointer for Belmont’s final points of the first half, but the Lady Vols entered the locker room with a 35-23 lead.
The Bruins began to string together some powerful plays in the third quarter.
Sophomore Tuti Jones opened the period with an easy basket right before Bartley made nice moves in the post and scored four straight points.
Still, the Lady Vols didn’t let Belmont take full control of the game, responding with baskets from Dye and Key.
Then, Jones turned it on, converting a huge ‘and one’ to kick off an 8-0 run for the Bruins.
Wells knocked down a jumper and Jones scored four straight points, making gigantic plays on back-to-back possessions.
Belmont’s heroics cut the Lady Vols’ lead to four points.
Jones kept the hot streak rolling, knocking down another three and energizing the Belmont fans decked out in blue and red.
After a forced turnover, Wells hyped up the Bruin-faithful even more with an ‘and one’ to tie the game at 46-all.
In the final seconds of the quarter, the Lady Vols ended their scoring drought with a jumper from Puckett.
The two teams tied in scoring with 13 points in the quarter, but the Bruins trailed 48-46 heading into the fourth.
The Lady Vols started off fast with baskets from Burrell and Key, but the Bruins had plenty of fight left in them.
Jones and Wells each nailed 3-pointers, the latter giving Belmont its first lead since the first quarter.
Gaining momentum, Wells drove into the lane for a smooth layup, and Bartley connected on a mid-range floater.
But the pattern continued, and the Lady Vols answered with baskets from Dye.
Wells and Dye traded buckets for the next few possessions, and the game ended up knotted at 64-all before Bartley knocked down a huge basket to give Belmont the edge once again.
After a set of empty possessions for each team, the Lady Vols ended up with the ball with 20 seconds left.
Coming out of the timeout, Tennessee drew up a play, and the ball found Puckett’s hands in the corner.
Puckett rose up and sank the go-ahead basket for the Lady Vols.
Just 10.8 seconds left.
Jones made one of her two free throws, but the Bruins still trailed 69-67.
Forced to foul, the Bruins sent Key to the charity stripe where she extended the Tennessee lead to three points.
Faced with one last chance to tie, Wells’ halfcourt Hail Mary hit the backboard and bounced back onto the court.
With the loss, Belmont’s 13-game winning streak ends and its season comes to a close.
And although the program might be viewed as a mid-major school by national onlookers, Belmont players and coaches don’t see it that way.
“We view ourselves as equals,” Brooks said. “There’s nothing small about how we play, there’s nothing small about how we operate our program.”
“There’s nothing small about Belmont, and that’s what we preach to these kids when we recruit them.”
Reeling from their March Madness run and a dominant regular season in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Bruins believe they put the rest of the country on notice with their performance in 2021-22. Returning players and coaches will use this season as a building block, looking toward next year when the Bruins join the Missouri Valley Conference.
“We proved that we can keep up with anybody,” Bartley said.
“We didn’t come up with the win, but being that close with Tennessee is something we should be proud of and something that the world should look out for next year.”
PHOTO: The Belmont bench cheers on the sidelines at the Thompson-Boling Arena as the Bruins battle the Lady Vols on Monday night. From left to right, Kilyn McGuff, Conley Chinn, Tessa Miller and Kiki Britzmann. Sarah Maninger / Belmont Vision
This article was written by Landen Secrest.