NASHVILLE, Tenn.- The Belmont University women's basketball team (20-5, 12-0) held on to win its 14th straight game Wednesday night, knocking off Jacksonville State (10-14, 3-9) 61-52 at the Curb Event Center.
After the teams met for a thriller last month in Jacksonville, the sequel between the Bruins and Gamecocks was also an exciting matchup. The Bruins led for over 36 minutes in what was a tight game throughout. Belmont led by just five with under four minutes to play at 53-48, but outscored the Gamecocks 9-4 down the stretch to preserve the victory.
Four Bruins finished in double figures led by Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind.) who scored 16 points. Sally McCabe (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) and Jenny Roy (Brentwood, Tenn.) each recorded double doubles as the Bruins improved to 12-0 in conference play for the first time in their Division I history.
Kylee Smith (Alpharetta, Ga.) finished with 14 points and she dished out a game-high seven assists. Smith eclipsed the 1,000 career points mark between her stops at Vanderbilt and Belmont in the Bruins' win.
"It was a tough win for us but we gritted it out and did what we had to do to secure it. At times we were a little careless with the ball, we had 18 turnovers and only 13 assists, but that's Jacksonville State's defense. That's what they do," said Belmont Head Coach Cameron Newbauer. "We were able to stick with it luckily. The second half didn't go as good as we would of liked but that's what happens in February sometimes, you gotta find ways to win and we were able to do that tonight."
McCabe and Roy finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds apiece as the veteran McCabe notched her 15th career double double and the sophomore Roy earned her fourth.
Belmont's 14 straight wins are the most consecutive victories in its history as a Division I institution and the second longest in the program's history dating back to its days an an NAIA member.
BU is 22-1 in its last 23 games at the Curb Event Center and its 14 game winning streak overall is the third longest active streak in all of NCAA Division I.
"We just kept going. We played through all the mistakes and turnovers and we just got it done. I always love playing at the Curb, playing at home is great. We got a great group of girls that are continuing to show toughness throughout each game and it's just fun. It was a great hardfought win," added Maggard.
The Bruins led Jacksonville State, 17-10 after the first quarter as they connected on 7-of-13 field goals in the opening frame. Belmont scored 10 points in the paint in the game's first 10 minutes and McCabe got off to a fast start, registering four points and five rebounds. After the score was tied at 2-2, Belmont led for the remainder of the quarter.
Belmont carried a 31-20 edge heading into halftime, shooting above 50% from the floor and holding JSU to below 30% shooting. Six different Bruins scored in the first half and Smith paced all scorers with eight at the break. Belmont held Jacksonville State to just 10 points in each of the opening two quarters.
After efficient offense in the first half, the Bruins would run into some problems in the second, shooting just 30% from the floor.
Jacksonville State came out aggressive in the third and trimmed the Belmont lead to just 37-31 at the period's media timeout by employing a 6-0 run. After the timeout, a Smith triple from the right wing at the 4:16 mark broke a lengthy scoreless drought for Belmont and gave it some breathing room. On the next Belmont possession, Maggard followed suit with her own three-pointer to grow the lead back to 12 at 43-31 with 3:46 remaining. Belmont would lead for double digits for the remainder of the quarter, and its largest lead was 14, but the Gamecocks mounted a rally towards the end of period to inch closer. The Bruins endured a late scoring drought and JSU scored the final four points to shrink Belmont's lead to 47-37 heading into the fourth. BU finished just 4-of-15 from the field in the frame.
Belmont's offensive struggles continued on into the fourth as the Gamecocks scored the quarter's first six points and trailed just 47-43 with 7:38 left in duration. A clutch three from Maggard helped snap the Bruins' cold shooting streak and gave the Bruins a 50-43 edge with just over seven minutes to play. JSU would again get the score within five points at 53-48 when Brianna Benson was true on a trey from the wing with 3:21 remaining. With 2:37 to play, JSU had a chance to narrow the gap to five points but on a baseline drive Benson was booked for the offensive foul as Lauren Thompson (Franklin, Tenn.) took a pivotal charge. Benson would foul out on the play, departing the game with 15 points.
The Bruins would never trail by fewer than seven the rest of the way as McCabe and Roy converted on scores down the stretch and Maggard a pair of tries from the charity stripe to propel the Bruins to their 18th win in their last 19 games.
Belmont outrebounded JSU, 45-34 and improved to 19-3 when outrebounding its opponent. BU finished the game shooting 40% (22-of-55) from the floor and 35% (7-of-20) from distance. The Bruins committed 18 turnovers, their most in their last four games.
The Bruins improved to 9-0 when at least four finish in double figures, Maggard, McCabe, Roy and Smith combined to score nearly 90% of Belmont's total points.
"To be able to play with such a talented group of girls is a point guard's dream. To be able to have weapons at all times that can score, play tough and put the ball in the basket that's what you dream of. I'm lucky enough and blessed to have great teammates that can flat out score," said Maggard.
Including last season's run through the OVC Tournament, Belmont is 28-1 in its last 29 OVC games and has won 18-straight.
Belmont's 20-5 start is its best start through 25 games since the 2006-07 campaign when it began 20-5 and eventually qualified for its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
"I think it's just our players' resilience and believing. Having confidence in each other and sharing the ball is something we stress. It's all about believing that we're going to take care of business and tonight we did that. Hats off to our kids for having the confidence. It's taken us some time to get there but we're there and hopefully we can keep it up. We're going to have our hands full Saturday on the road," added Newbauer.
The Bruins return to OVC play this Saturday, Feb. 11 when they travel to Tennessee Tech to take on the Golden Eagles in Cookeville.