CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The greatest four-year run of Belmont women's basketball in recent memory came to an end Friday in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship tournament.
The bracket's 13th-seeded Bruins couldn't overcome their toughest task of the season and No. 4 South Carolina. The huge and hugely talented Gamecocks owned the glass and the paint on the way to a 74-52 victory at UNC Charlotte's Halton Arena.
For the fourth straight year, Belmont's season ends in the tournament's first round. The Bruins head to the offseason at 26-7, their fourth straight season with at least 26 wins.
Belmont fans got one last look at the sweetest shot of the Bruins' modern era as senior Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind.) drained her final 3-point attempt in Blue and Red in the game's waning seconds. Maggard and fellow departing fourth-year players Jenny Roy (Brentwood, Tenn.), Hannah Harmeyer (Kenosha, Wis.) and Paris Lawson (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) helped usher the Belmont women's basketball program to unfathomable heights in their time on campus.
The Bruins reached the NCAA Tournament all four years, a first since Belmont transitioned to the NCAA in 1997. They never lost an Ohio Valley Conference Tournament game on the way to four straight titles, an active accomplishment only matched by perennial power UConn. Belmont also piled up 108 wins the past four years, again its best strech ever as an NCAA member.
"Most people dream about going to the NCAA Tournament four times. To be able to play at Belmont, to watch how much our team and the level of confidence has grown in four years is unbelievable," said Maggard, who led Belmont with 13 points Friday to finish her tremendous career with 2,031.
"There's not a group of people I'd rather be here with. I'm just so thankful for my teammates and my coaches and everybody who made this possible. Belmont is the best place you could ever be."
Roy completed one of Belmont's best passing seasons ever by dishing out eight assists to go with seven points. She finished with 188 assists, tying the program's NCAA-era record for a single season. As a reminder of how special the 2018-19 season was and the bond between its seniors, it's important to note whom Roy tied at the top of the charts. It was none other than Maggard, who had 188 two years ago as a sophomore and who wrapped up Roy in a teary hug upon learning of her teammate's feat after Friday's game.
It was an emotional afternoon in Charlotte as the Bruins hung tough through the first quarter, trailing by only three points, 16-13. The daunting defense of South Carolina (22-9) turned up the heat in the second though, holding Belmont to 1-of-9 shooting. Still, Belmont wasn't out of it, memories of a 18-point comeback attempt at fellow SEC power [10/10] Tennessee from December still swirling in the Bruins' minds.
"We guarded them well in the first half. To hold a team as explosive as they are to 29 points in the half, I'll take that any day," Belmont Head Coach Bart Brooks said. "That's not easy to do with the players that South Carolinas throws at you. I was proud of the toughness we showed."
Belmont responded in the third by making four of its first five shots, all from different players. The Bruins cut the deficit to as few as eight points, 31-23. But South Carolina seemed to feed off Belmont's renewed energy as well, countering the resurgence by making 13-of-16 shots in the quarter.
Belmont knocked down seven threes from the outside, but couldn't contend with South Carolina's size inside. The Gamecocks held the rebounding edge, 38-22.
Junior Ellie Harmeyer (Kenosha, Wis.), Belmont's emergent star, had five of those boards to go with nine points. Freshman Conley Chinn (Jackson, Miss.) played above her experience with 10 points and four rebounds as well.
They will be among a talented and now seasoned group of returners – including juniors Maura Muensterman and Maddie Wright, and freshmen Jamilyn Kinney and Macie Culbertson – who will carry the torch toward a potential fifth straight NCAA trip next season.
RECAP: The greatest 4-year run in @BelmontWBB's modern era ended Friday in the NCAA Tournament, but this senior class reset the standard for success. Thank you for everything, seniors! �� ��— Belmont WBasketball (@BelmontWBB) March 22, 2019
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