KENNESAW, Ga. – The Belmont women's basketball team (12-16, 11-6 A-Sun) held off a scrappy Kennesaw State (13-15, 8-9 A-Sun) team Thursday afternoon on the road. The Bruins used the combination of a strong first half performance and stifling defense in the final two minutes of regulation to catapult them to the 58-53 victory.
The Bruins opened on a tear behind the three-point shooting of sophomore Molly Ernst (Louisville, Ky.), who drained three consecutive to open the contest. Redshirt junior Katie Brooks (Maryville, Tenn.) followed with a jumper and freshman Katie Carroll (Lilburn, Ga.) knocked down her first trey of the afternoon to put BU ahead, 14-3, with 16:31 left on the clock. Belmont continued to roll with baskets coming from senior Haley Nelson (Scottsboro, Ala.), Brooks and another triple by Ernst that expanded the team's lead to 29-5 just five minutes later. BU was shooting at a 75 percent clip midway through the first half and leaned on its strong defense to keep Kennesaw State from reaching double digits until the 8:04 mark. The Owls used this as a spark and worked to get back into the contest, successfully using second chance shots under the basket to cut Belmont's lead down to single digits.
KSU put together an 11-0 run, taking advantage of a Belmont drought that lasted over three minutes, to close the gap to 30-22 with 4:24 left in the half. The Owls kept pushing and by the 1:38 mark had moved within six. However, it would be the Bruins who would net the final points of the stanza, with Nelson hitting one of two at the stripe to send the teams to the locker rooms separated by seven, 32-25.
After the break, the Owls immediately began making moves to tie the game. However, the Bruins continued to stay in front, using jumpers by senior Tristan Daniel (Waynesboro, Tenn.) and Brooks. By the 12:19 mark, BU had blown its lead back up to double digits, 44-33, thanks to work in the paint by Nelson. Four minutes later, a pair at the line and a jumper cut BU's lead down to six, 49-43. Kennesaw State kept working and by the 6:51 mark found itself within three, 49-43, thanks to another icy spell by the Bruins that lasted over three minutes. Belmont attempted to keep space between the teams but KSU used work at the free-throw line to stay in the game.
Despite spotty shooting down the stretch, the Bruins were able to maintain control of the contest. Suddenly, KSU began to surge for one final comeback effort. Using a 6-0 run, the Owls closed the gap to only one point, 54-53, with 1:08 left in regulation after forcing a huge turnover. A Nelson layup made it a three-point differential again, 56-53, but Kennesaw State struggled to find an opportunity to make it a tie game with a shot from behind the arc.
In the final 30 ticks of regulation, the Owls called their final timeout to strategize but were again stalled by their inability to shoot the long ball, burning valuable seconds off the clock. With just 11 seconds left, Nelson missed a pair at the stripe but two KSU players fought each other over the rebound and tipped the ball out of bounds. Three seconds later, KSU came up with the steal but in its inability to decide on how to score, Nelson swiped the ball and drove for a layup as time expired to give Belmont the 58-53 win.
Kennesaw State shot 32.2 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from three-point range and 60 percent at the free-throw line. The Owls held the advantage in rebounds, 50-27, blocks, 7-5, and steals, 8-7.
KSU was led in scoring by Sametria Gideon, who finished with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds. Also reaching double figures was Elaina Gray with 10 points.
Belmont shot 48.8 percent from the hardwood, 54.5 percent from behind the three-point arc and 43.5 percent from the charity stripe.
Nelson notched her 14th double-double of the season with a game-high 14 points and 13 rebounds. Ernst netted 12 points and Brooks added 11 points in the effort. Nelson also knocked down a game-high four blocks while Brooks finished with a game-high six assists.
Belmont wraps its regular season slate on the road at Mercer on Saturday afternoon. Tip-off is slated for 2 p.m. and the contest can be heard live via the internet on the Bruin Sports Network. The matchup can be seen on ASun.TV and live stats as well as a Twitter feed (@BelmontWBB) will also be available.