NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Belmont women's basketball team (10-16, 9-6 A-Sun) opened its home finale weekend in fine fashion on Thursday with a determined victory over visiting USC Upstate (7-19, 6-9 A-Sun). The Bruins helped Head Coach Brittney Ezell notch her 100th career win with the 74-69 victory over the Spartans.
The contest opened with a fierce back and forth battle between the teams in their final regular season matchup. A jumper by sophomore Molly Ernst (Louisville, Ky.) and triple from near the top of the arc by senior Tristan Daniel (Waynesboro, Tenn.) knotted the game at five barely three minutes in. Upstate pulled ahead behind a three pointer but work inside the paint by senior Haley Nelson (Scottsboro, Ala.) and a drive by freshman Adrienne Tarrence (Bowling Green, Ky.) gave BU its first lead of the night, 13-12, with 15:06 remaining. The Spartans answered back with a 7-2 run to go up, 19-15, three minutes later.
Freshman Amara Mayers (Harvest, Ala.) made the first of several strong drives to the basket to help keep the Bruins within striking distance. USC Upstate gained its largest lead of the night, seven points, but senior Cacy Burtnett (Cleveland, Tenn.) knocked down a triple from the right side of the arc and junior Alyssa Visbeen (Franklin, Tenn.) battled for a layup to make it a two-point game, 25-23, with just over eight minutes left in the half.
Two minutes later, the Bruins exploded for a 12-2 run behind a jumper by freshman Katie Carroll (Lilburn, Ga.) and back-to-back treys by Mayers and Visbeen, forcing the Spartan bench to call timeout as BU pulled ahead, 33-30. BU leaned on its strong defense to help it keep a lid on the contest in the final three minutes of regulation. USC Upstate managed to knot the score twice in the final 50 seconds but could not get past Belmont's defense, sending the teams to the locker rooms locked in a 37-37 stalemate.
After the break, Upstate attempted to keep up the same fast and furious scoring pace from the first stanza but the Bruins continued to battle behind drives by Nelson. Around the 15 minute mark, the teams once again began trading baskets, keeping it either tied or at a one-point differential game for nearly a three-minute span until Mayers drilled a triple from the left side of the arc, opening up a 9-2 run for the Bruins that put them ahead 59-52 by the 10:38 mark.
Belmont seemed to be on cruise control for upwards of six minutes, easily controlling the pace of the contest with its defense and strong shooting. The Spartans steadily worked and soon came within a single basket of forcing the game's eighth tie of the night but a jumper by Carroll and a pair at the charity stripe by Nelson kept them at arm's length. Upstate made its last push in the final two minutes of regulation. The Spartans closed the point differential to a single point, 70-69, after a three pointer and a layup by Tee'Ara Copney with 17 ticks remaining on the clock. However, Nelson and Carroll were flawless at the line to secure BU's 74-69 victory.
USC Upstate shot 43.1 percent from the floor, 38.9 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line. The Spartans held the advantage in rebounds, 41-31, and blocks, 4-3.
Upstate had four players reach double figures, led by Tee'Ara Copney's 17 points. Lauren McRoberts, Briana Robinson and Tyra Smith added 14, 13, and 10 points, respectively. McRoberts led the team in rebounds with 10.
Belmont shot 44.4 percent from the hardwood, 41.7 percent from behind the three-point arc and 60 percent from the charity stripe. The Bruins held the advantage in assists, 15-11, and steals, 11-6.
Nelson netted a game-high 17 points and pulled down seven rebounds. Mayers scored a career-high 13 points and Carroll added 11 points in the effort. Redshirt junior Katie Brooks (Maryville, Tenn.) finished with a game-high six assists and Burtnett had a game-high three steals.
Belmont returns to action on Saturday in its home finale. The Bruins host in-state rival ETSU beginning at 5 p.m. A presentation honoring seniors Cacy Burtnett, Tristan Daniel, Crystal Kesler, Haley Nelson and Shai Wilkins will be held before tip-off. The contest can be heard live via the internet on the Bruins Sports Network and seen on ASun.TV. Live stats and a Twitter feed (@BelmontWBB) will also be available.
Fans are encouraged to show Bruin spirit by wearing blue as part of Homecoming 2012.