MOREHEAD, Ky.- Behind 26 points from Kylee Smith (Alpharetta, Ga.) and 22 points Sally McCabe (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.), the Belmont University women's basketball team (14-5, 6-0) defeated Morehead State (14-5, 4-2), 91-59 Saturday evening at Johnson Arena.
In what was just a 35-29 game at the break, the Bruins found a second gear in the second half, outscoring the Eagles 56-30 fueled by 21-of-33 (63.6%) shooting from the field. Belmont picked up its eight-straight win and knocked off a Morehead State team that came into the action with the second-best record in the OVC. From distance, the Bruins would catch fire, shooting 7-of-12 in the second half from beyond the arc.
"Very proud of our second half focus and toughness tonight. Morehead is a very good transition and offensive team and we knew we would have our hands full and would need a team effort on D to have success tonight. We did a nice job of turning stops on the defensive end into some early offensive looks that we knocked down to start the 3rd quarter. It was great to see Kylee and Sally play with such aggressiveness on offense for us as well. I believe we got better as a team tonight and couldn't be more proud of this group's effort," remarked Belmont Head Coach Cameron Newbauer after the win.
The Bruins shot 33-of-63 (52.4%) for the game and outrebounded a very strong rebounding Eagle team, 51-42. Joining Smith and McCabe in double figures was sophomore guard Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind.) who scored 13 and dished out seven assists. The Bruins finished 10-of-31 from three-point range and improve to 10-3 when making at least seven triples.
Smith, who scored her most points since dropping 29 at Loyola Marymount on Nov. 26 praised her teammates after the victory saying, "I think it's just my team, we play team ball. At the end of the day, we move the ball really well and I just happened to be open when my teammates looked for me," said Smith.
The Bruins played some stingy defense, blocking a season-high 13 shots and holding Morehead State to just 28.8% shooting.
Belmont improves to 14-3 when outrebounding its opponent and 14-2 when scoring more than 70 points.
McCabe nearly missed out on a double double, adding nine rebounds and five blocks.
"I just saw the fight and the want to win. We wanted to show what we can do as a team. We weren't feeling that great at half time, we knew we could do better. In the second half we came out determined that we could play better, and that's what happened," said McCabe.
The Bruins held a 20-15 lead after the game's first quarter. The first frame saw lots of back-and-forth action. Belmont would never trail in the quarter but Morehead State was in striking distance for all of the first 10 minutes. After the Eagles closed in on Belmont with a late 4-0 run, Smith knocked down a crucial three-point from the right wing with just seconds left to give the Bruins a 20-15 edge heading into the second quarter.
Belmont carried a 35-29 lead heading into the break thanks to a late scoring burst in the final seconds of the second quarter. After a nearly four minute scoreless stretch allowed the Eagles to claw their way back and narrow the deficit to just 31-29, the Bruins finished the second frame on a 4-0 scoring run over the final 14 seconds. Sierra Jones (Huntsville, Ala.) broke the Bruins' lengthy scoring drought with a pull up jumper, and Belmont forced a turnover on the ensuing possession which allowed the Bruins a crack at the final shot of the half with six seconds remaining. After receiving the inbound pass Smith found a streaking Jenny Roy (Brentwood, Tenn.), who took the ball and finished at the rim with an acrobatic layup just before the second quarter buzzer. The late rally gave some Belmont some breathing room and momentum after Morehead had turned the tables a bit. McCabe led all scorers at the break with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor while Smith checked in at the intermission with seven points and four assists.
"One of the main halftime adjustments we made was limiting their offensive rebounding. They had 11 or so at the half so we definitely tried to focus on that. We knew if we cut down on their number of shots that we would be in a better place," said Smith.
The Bruins picked up right where they left off, opening the third with a 12-0 scoring run. At the under five media timeout, Belmont led 47-31. The third quarter was all Smith's. The redshirt-junior erupted for 15 points, including four three-pointers. After a very tight first half, the Bruins put their foot on the pedal in the third, outscoring the Eagles 26-14. Belmont shot 9-of-15 from the floor in the third and Smith alone outscored MSU 15-14.
In the fourth, Belmont continued to pour it on, outscoring MSU 30-16, connecting on 12 of their 18 field goal attempts in the quarter.
"This was a big focus game, for sure. We really focused on the scout, and did what we needed to do in the game to get the job done. We we're being outrebounded at the half and that's not something we like to see. We take pride in our rebounding and we knew that we could do better. It was just an effort thing for us in the second half," added McCabe.
Roy finished with nine points and 10 rebounds, falling just shy of her fourth double double.
Belmont is now 6-0 in league play for the first time since the 2006-07 season when it started 9-0 in Atlantic Sun competition.
Including last season's run through the OVC Tournament, Belmont is 21-1 in its last 22 OVC games.
The Bruins return to the hardwood Wednesday, Jan. 18 when they travel to Jacksonville State.