The Belmont women’s basketball team’s historic season came to a heartbreaking close Saturday, following a tough 72-58 loss to No. 5 seed Duke at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia.
Head coach Bart Brooks said he was proud of his team despite the loss.
“I am just thrilled that I got to go on this head coaching ride with this team. It has been one heck of a season,” Brooks said. “Our loss today absolutely does not define what this group did this season.”
“These girls have really made this program what it is and I can’t thank them enough.”
The No. 12 seed Belmont team held Duke to a close game for the entire first half, ending the first quarter trailing by just two points — the second by only one.
The Bruins even took a brief lead over the Blue Devils late in the second quarter, after junior Ellie Harmeyer knocked down back-to-back threes.
It wasn’t until halfway through the third quarter when a reorganized Duke squad rallied behind a surge of scoring from Leonna Odom and Rebecca Greenwell, and ended the quarter up 53-40.
The Bruins — ultimately unable to overcome the deficit under a smothering Duke defense — fought until the end.
Seniors Kylee Smith and Sally McCabe kept their team within 10 for much of the fourth quarter, with Smith leading the Bruins with 20 points.
Smith spoke to the Bruins’ relentless fight against the Power 5 conference Blue Devils.
“You can’t count us out until the buzzer goes off. So, there’s never been a doubt in my mind until there are two zeroes across the board on the clock that we’re out of this fight,” Smith said. “We talk about toughness and relentlessness all season, and I think that’s what we’ve showed.”
“We see we go down 15, but that doesn’t mean anything to us.”
Junior Darby Maggard, who was kept to just 4-12 in scoring by the Blue Devils, tallied 12 points for the Bruins.
Junior Jenny Roy also kept Duke’s All-ACC guard Lexie Brown to just 3-10 in shooting, a defensive feat against the 20 points-per-game shooter.
McCabe grabbed four blocks, and ended her Belmont career with an incredible 291 career blocks — an OVC and Belmont All-Time high.
Playing for the Bruins and building the program over her four-year career was an honor, she said.
“It’s been an incredible four years, and I know, speaking for Kylee and Sierra, it’s just been an honor to wear this jersey and to see the growth in this program and to see the young people coming in after us,” McCabe said. “They have the vision also. They’re just going to take it and take what we started and run with it, and that’s the best thing that you can have as a senior leaving.”
Brooks also spoke highly of the this year’s graduating class — Smith, McCabe and Sierra Jones.
“Each of these players has had such big impacts on our season and I thank them for opening their arms to me in my first year coaching and just letting me be heard,” he said. “The trust they have placed on me is something I am so thankful for.”
The Bruins ended their season 31-4, undefeated in conference play for the second consecutive year, ranked No. 23 in a national poll and reigning, three-peat OVC champions.
This article written by Zach Gilchriest. Photos by Carina Eudy and Zach Gilchriest.