Women hand Hatters first conference loss

With one minute to go in the game the Belmont Bruins women’s basketball team led the Stetson Hatters by six points.

It wasn’t the first time the Bruins had been in a close game with these Hatters before.

Last year, Stetson eliminated Belmont from the Atlantic Sun conference tournament with a half-court, game-winning shot.

This time, however, Brittany Ezell’s Bruins held off a late Hatter rally for a win against the conference co-leaders. The Bruins defeated the Stetson Hatters 65-58 Saturday evening, ending the visiting Hatters’ 10-game winning streak and 16-game conference winning streak.

Early runs in both halves helped the Bruins take leads they never gave up. Ezell attributed this to the team’s play in the paint, especially from seniors Haley Nelson, Tristan Daniel, and junior Alyssa Visbeen.

“I think we really established our inside play early. Haley and Alyssa and Tristan did a fantastic job. Torie (Vaught) was really good in the post. We have a really big advantage in the post, and I think we did a good job of putting it in there early,” she said.

For the first four minutes of the game, the Bruins excelled against the conference co-leading Hatters. They opened the game on a 7-0 run and expanded their lead to 14 points within the first six minutes of the game.

The Bruins held their lead throughout the first half, never letting the Hatters get closer than six points. The home team shot 44 percent overall in the half, while the visiting Hatters only made one of every four shots they attempted.

These numbers held for Belmont early in the second half as they started an 11-1 run to open the half. They extended their lead to 19 points, only to see Stetson chip away at their deficit for the rest of the game.

A lack a post play from Belmont, Ezell said, led to a close ending she hoped wouldn’t happen.

“We went away from that later in the half, and that’s when we struggled. Down the stretch, we went back to what works best for us,” she said.

Foul shots, with that post play, eventually made the difference for the Bruins. Their last 11 points were made on the free throw line. With seven of these free throws, Molly Ernst led Belmont with 18 points.

Nelson, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Bruins in the game, saw last year’s buzzer-beater as motivation for this game.

“We came into this game with a bit of excitement… We came into this game wanting to win this one more than anything,” she said. “It’s really pepped us up, and got us ready for our next conference games.”

After starting the season with only two wins in their first 13 games, Nelson believes a relatively young Belmont team is coming together for a late-season run.

“I think a big part was just understanding each other,” she said. “We had a lot of new girls who came in, and I think we’re finally getting it together, working together, coming as a team and doing the things we do good. We can do some great things if we’re playing the way we’re playing right now.”

With the win, the women’s team moved to 5-13 on the season. Their next game will be at ETSU on Feb. 19.

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