NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Eastern Illinois women’s basketball team has been at the bottom of the Ohio Valley Conference standings the last couple of seasons. Belmont has won its last 33 OVC games.
One of those wins for Belmont was a 28-point victory over the Panthers two weeks ago.
Still, the Panthers were able to stick with the Bruins for almost three quarters. But a run by Belmont at the end of the third quarter gave the Bruins some separation.
Then Belmont’s experience took over in the fourth quarter as a 13-0 run to start the final period of play gave the Bruins a 20-point lead. Belmont went on to win 59-37 for its 34th OVC win.
“Give (Belmont point guard) Darby (Maggard) credit, she is a great player. Juniors and seniors stepped up and made plays (for Belmont) with the game on the line,” EIU coach Matt Bollant said. “A couple of offensive rebounds hurt us and Darby got going, but we have to score to have a chance to beat the 30th ranked team in the country. We have another opportunity to grow on Saturday.”
Belmont (19-3, 9-0 OVC) is receiving votes in the Associated Press poll.
EIU (2-18, 1-8 OVC) had trouble keeping Belmont off the boards. The Bruins grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, but Belmont didn’t start taking full advantage until the third quarter. Belmont finished with 19 second chance points, including a couple of key put-backs late in the third quarter to help the Bruins pull away.
“I thought the end of the third quarter, they get a couple of put-backs and that really turned the tide of the game,” Bollant said.
The Panthers held Belmont to its second-lowest point total of the season and that’s because EIU worked to slow the pace of the game. But the Panthers couldn’t hit enough shots to keep up with Belmont, even with holding the Bruins to 59 points.
EIU shot only 27.8 percent (15-of-54) and only hit 5-of-23 three-pointers.
“We tried to have less possessions and tried to slow the pace,” Bollant said. “We weren’t going to beat them if the score was in the 80’s. We executed the game plan well, except for the ability to make shots.”
Belmont struggled from the field, too. Even with a 60 percent fourth quarter, the Bruins shot 36.2 percent (21-of-58) from the field and were only 8-of-32 from behind the arc. EIU limited forward Sally McCabe to only six shots and 10 points.
Maggard came through in the second half and finished the game with five three-pointers and finished with 17 points.
“I thought we did a good job executing the game plan,” Bollant said “They didn’t shoot it great which gave us a break. I didn’t want McCabe to get going and thought (Jennifer Nehls) did a good job on her.”
Carmen Tellez, who led EIU with eight points, hit a 3-pointer to start the game for EIU, but the Panthers offense struggled for the rest of the quarter. Belmont was unable to take advantage and the game was tied at 8-8 until Kylie Smith hit a three to give the Bruins an 11-8 lead going into the second quarter.
Danielle Berry scored on a layup and Jennifer Nehls grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back in for a 12-11 Panthers lead.
Belmont took the lead right back, but Taylor Steele hit a three and EIU went up 15-13. Belmont tied the game and then got a three for an 18-15 lead when Halle Stull tied the game with a three.
Darby Maggard came back with a three-pointer for Belmont when Tellez scored on a layup and was fouled. She made the free throw to tie the game at 21-21.
Belmont got a free throw from Ellie Harmeyer and went into halftime with a 22-21 lead.
EIU stuck with the Bruins for most of the third quarter. Nehls hit a three to tie the game at 24. Belmont retook the lead, but Grace McRae converted a traditional three-point play for a 27-26 lead. Belmont got the lead right back until a bucket by Pace gave EIU its last lead of the game at 29-28.
Belmont had a 33-21 lead until Maggard hit a three-pointer and Harmeyer got an offensive board and a put-back for a 38-31 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Bruins stayed hot to being the fourth quarter. They hit 4-of-5 shots, including three three-pointers and Belmont went up 51-31. Belmont went on to win 59-37.