MARTIN, Tenn. – Mired in a 20-point first-half hole, the Belmont women's basketball team responded with a fervid comeback effort to force overtime Thursday at UT Martin's Elam Center. The Bruins knotted the score at the end of regulation and then took the lead in the extra period, but the Skyhawks held the upper hand at the final buzzer in a 71-68 Ohio Valley Conference clash.
The loss is Belmont's first setback in nearly two months for a team that was riding a 14-game win streak and has already clinched the OVC's regular season title. The win for UT Martin helps the Skyhawks keep pace for the No. 2 seed to the upcoming OVC Tournament.
With just one game left before the postseason, the loss feels like a stark wake-up call for Belmont (22-6, 15-2 OVC), said senior point guard Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind.)
"It's never fun to lose, but they're such a good basketball team," Maggard said of UT Martin. "I think in order for us to go where we want to go, we need to learn from this and grow and learn how to play a full 40 minutes. We weren't ready to play today and they took advantage."
The Bruins looked exceptional for 20 minutes Thursday, but the opening 20 fell flat as UT Martin (20-8, 12-5 OVC) charged out to a big lead. The Skyhawks made nine straight shots at one point in the second quarter, including six 3-pointers, and outscored Belmont 26-8 in the frame.
Despite trailing by as many as 21-points, matching a season-worst deficit, the Bruins didn't quit. A 14-0 run to start the third quarter helped erase much of the hole as Belmont made 8-of-9 shots in the third overall.
Freshman forward Conley Chinn (Jackson, Miss.) cut UT Martin's advantage down to one point, 44-43, with a 3-pointer just inside the fourth quarter and then again on a layup two possessions later. UT Martin used one last 10-0 surge to run the lead out to 56-45 though.
That's when junior forward Ellie Harmeyer (Kenosha, Wis.) took over. Harmeyer, who logged her 12th double-double of the season with 24 points and 11 rebounds, scored Belmont's final seven points of regulation. That included a basket with 18 seconds remaining that tied the game at 60-all.
"It all starts with our defense. We have to get stops and we have to rebound," Harmeyer said. "I thought we did a really good job of that coming out in the second half. We were very disciplined defensively and we made them miss shots, which led to us being able to score on offense."
Harmeyer's eighth and ninth straight Belmont points on a layup 30 seconds into overtime gave the Bruins their first lead since four minutes into the game, 6-4. But after shooting less than 30 percent in the second half, UT Martin made 57 percent of its OT shots and sealed the win with free throws. The Bruins were unable to get a last-second shot off out of a timeout with 1.7 seconds remaining to potentially re-tie the game.
"I really respect their program," said Maggard, who added 18 points. "They do a really good job of trying to take away our strengths and make us do something different. It's become a pretty big game for us and we're looking forward to maybe seeing them again at the tournament."
The teams needed overtime to decide last year's OVC champion as well, when Belmont won 63-56 in OT in the tournament finals.
UP NEXT: Belmont closes the regular season Saturday at Southeast Missouri. Tipoff is set for 4:30 p.m.