COOKEVILLE, Tenn.- The Belmont University women's basketball team (21-5, 13-0) won its 15th-straight game Saturday evening as it picked up a 85-66 victory over Tennessee Tech (10-16, 7-6) at the Eblen Center. Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind.) tied her career high with eight made three-pointers and finished 8-of-10 from beyond the arc while Kylee Smith (Alpharetta, Ga.) made a career-high six triples of her own in the spirited win. The duo combined to score 48 points and knock down 14 three-pointers.
The Bruins shot excellently from the field, making 31-of-53 (58.5%) of their shots and from distance they shot 14-of-22 (63.6%), all while holding Tennessee Tech to 39.4% and 33.3% in those respective categories. Maggard dished out six assists along with her 24 points. Lauren Thompson (Franklin, Tenn.) scored 11 points and Sally McCabe (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) 10 to round out a group of four double digit scorers for Belmont.
Belmont assisted on 21 of its 31 made field goals.
BU nearly led wire to wire, holding the edge for 39:37, but the Golden Eagles put forth a scrappy fight as Yaktavia Hickson scored 24 points to pace Tech. TTU entered the matchup in third place in the conference.
"I'm really happy for the kids and what they've done this season so far. I'm extremely proud of our ladies tonight for their efforts on both sides of the floor. We won our 12th road game which is tied for the most in the country, and we did it in a place like Tennessee Tech which is a tough place to play. To shoot 59% from the floor and 64% from three and to hold them to 39% and 33% in the same areas, is something we couldn't be more proud of. I thought tonight they did a great job of embracing the challenge, but I still think we have room to grow and improve," said Belmont Head Coach Cameron Newbauer.
Over its past 30 OVC games including last season's conference tournament, Belmont is 29-1 and the Bruins have won 19 straight games during that span.
The Bruins' 15-game winning streak is the third longest active streak this season in all of NCAA Division I, trailing just UConn (24) and Texas (18), and their 12 road wins are tied with UConn for the most in the nation. Belmont has won seven-straight road games.
Belmont hit four of its first five shots to open the game and led 9-6 at the first quarter media timeout. Belmont held a 25-11 lead after the first quarter was all said and done. Smith led the way with 11 first quarter tallies and the Bruins assisted on nine of their first 10 made field goals. The redshirt-junior, Smith, was true on her first three tries from distance. Belmont finished 10-of-17 from the floor in the frame and closed the period on a 13-2 run after the score was just 12-9. Maggard also connected on a pair of treys, and after just three points all of last game vs. Jacksonville State, Thompson scored six points in the contest's first 10 minutes.
"We really set our tempo early and didn't allow them to set theirs. We set ours by running and moving, making sure were not only moving the ball but physically moving our bodies on the floor. I think this set up for a lot of open shots, especially in the beginning. When you can get a couple to go down early, that helps so much. To have a teammate like Kylee Smith that can literally knock a shot down from anywhere, it makes so much fun to play with a wing player like that as a point guard. She's just incredible, I mean our whole team is, but tonight she was spectacular," said Maggard.
Thompson surpassed the 900 career point and the 500 career rebound threshold in the win.
After a 9-3 scoring run, Belmont led 34-16 midway through the second, but back came TTU with an 8-0 run to trim the gap to just 10 points at 34-24. On the following possession, Smith's fifth three-pointer gave the Bruins some breathing room at 37-24 as 2:14 remained on the clock. Belmont kept its foot on the gas, outscoring the Golden Eagles 6-2 the rest of the way in the second. Back-to-back three-pointers from Maggard and Smith helped the Bruins head into the break with a 43-26 lead and all the momentum after the Golden Eagles had clawed their way back. In the second quarter, Belmont shot 7-of-11 (63.6%) from the field and after 11 points in the first, Smith came back with 11 more in the second. The Bruins' outstanding shooting from three-point land and crisp ball movement were the stories of the first half. Belmont shot 9-of-13 (69.2%) from distance and assisted on 15 of its 17 made field goals. Maggard checked in with nine points on a trio of three-pointers at the half.
Tennessee Tech opened up the third quarter on a 7-0 run and the Bruins went scoreless for the period's first three minutes. After a cold start to the frame, Thompson converted on her patented top of the key jumper to snap the scoreless streak and put Belmont back up 13 at 48-33 with 6:41 remaining in the quarter. As she has shown the ability to do all season, Maggard can heat up quickly, the sophomore poured in four three-pointers in the third quarter alone going for 12 points. The sophomore point guard drained three's on consecutive possessions at a point in the quarter which stretched Belmont's lead. After some uptempo, back and forth play in the third, Belmont carried a 62-47 lead heading into the fourth.
"I try to just take what the defense gives me. My teammates did a really good job of finding me when I was open, and that's just them. It's really not me, it's them, I play with some really great teammates," said Maggard.
The Bruins outscored Tennessee Tech 23-19 in the fourth quarter behind six points in the quarter from the junior McCabe. Belmont shot 7-of-12 (58.3%) in the final stanza as it recorded its fourth-straight quarter shooting above 50% from the floor. Free throws aided the Bruins in the fourth as they netted eight points from the charity stripe.
At 15 straight, Belmont is now just one win away from tying the program record for consecutive victories which was set during the 1989-90 season when Belmont competed as a member of the NAIA.
Outrebounding Tennessee Tech, 39-28, Belmont improves to 20-3 when collecting more boards than its opponent.
Maggard and Smith combined to score more than half the Bruins' total points and BU improves to 11-0 when scoring at least 80 points.
Smith started a perfect 6-of-6 from three-point range. "Honestly I didn't really think about it until after the game when my teammates and I were really excited. My teammates were just getting me the ball when I was open, so I shot it. It was a great feeling for me to start off strong, but then it was Darby in the second half killing the three-point shot too. It's just fun at this point," added Smith.
Belmont is 13-0 in conference play for the first time since joining the Division I ranks.
Against Tennessee Tech, Belmont has now won eight in a row.
"It's an awesome arena and an awesome environment. They pack it, especially with a double header. It's always a good feeling to win, but to get a great team win on the road is special," remarked Smith.
Belmont's 21-5 start is its best start through 26 games since the 2006-07 campaign when it began 21-5 and eventually qualified for its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Bruins return to action Wednesday, Feb. 15 when they travel to Eastern Kentucky for their final road game of the 2016-17 campaign.
Game Highlights Courtesy of Christian Sadler
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