MACON, Ga. – A strong second half comeback effort by the Belmont women's basketball team (12-17, 11-7 A-Sun) fell just short in the final three minutes of regulation on the road at Mercer (6-23, 4-14 A-Sun) on Saturday afternoon. The Bruins battled back from a 17-point deficit but fell 73-66.
The Bears opened the first stanza with a 6-0 run before senior Haley Nelson (Scottsboro, Ala.) drove for a layup to put the Bruins on the board. Nelson put together her own string of jumpers and free throws to score BU's first eight points of the day. By the 14:33 mark, Mercer had built its first double digit advantage, 18-8, after another 6-0 run. However, Belmont answered back with one of its own after jumpers by sophomore Julianne Downs (Franklin, Tenn.) sandwiched a pair of free throws by Nelson in the seventh minute of action.
The teams traded baskets before a quick six points from jumpers by junior Alyssa Visbeen (Franklin, Tenn.) and Downs forced the Mercer bench to burn a timeout as the Bruins moved to within six, 26-20, with 9:40 left in the half. However, the Bears answered with back-to-back three pointers to pull away again by10, 32-22, barely two minutes later. Belmont remained within striking distance until MU exploded for an 8-0 run to go up, 48-35, by the 1:10 mark. The Bruins attempted to make a dent in the lead with a three but the attempt bounced off the back of the rim and the teams headed to the locker rooms locked in the same score.
After the break, the Bruins immediately began working to trim down Mercer's halftime lead. A series of fouls sent senior Tristan Daniel (Waynesboro, Tenn.) to the stripe where she knocked down four consecutive to move BU to within 10, 56-46, with 14:13 left in the half. Belmont continued surging behind Nelson's work inside the paint and soon was only down by four, 56-52, after Downs drilled a pair at the line three minutes later. The Bears' first half intensity had completely dried up under BU's defensive pressure and they slipped into a scoring drought that lasted more than eight minutes.
A pair of fouls sent freshman Katie Carroll (Lilburn, Ga.) to the charity stripe where she hit 3-of-4 to move the Bruins to within two, 59-57, with 8:28 left in regulation. Unfortunately, the Bears got their legs under their collective selves and rebuilt a seven-point lead five minutes later, 67-60. Belmont made one final push to take the contest behind Nelson, who netted two crucial jumpers in the paint to move the team to within three, 67-64, with 1:15 remaining on the clock. As time ticked to its final 60 seconds, the Bruins tried to hold off the Bears to make enough headway to take the lead for the first time in the contest. Redshirt junior Katie Brooks (Maryville, Tenn.) knocked down two at the free-throw line with only 32 seconds left to keep BU within four, 70-66. However, that would be as close as it would come as Mercer added seven points in the final 45 seconds to take the 73-66 win.
Mercer shot 44.1 percent from the floor, 38.5 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line. The Bears held the advantage in assists, 10-9, and steals, 10-8.
Ry'van Buchanan and Briana Williams were the only MU players to reach double figures, adding 28 and 27 points, respectively. Williams grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
Belmont shot 41.5 percent from the hardwood, 11.1 percent from behind the three-point arc and 84 percent from the charity stripe. The Bruins held the advantage in rebounds, 34-30, and blocks, 5-2.
Nelson picked up her 15th double-double of the season, matching her career-high of 22 points and pulling down a game-high 13 rebounds. Downs added nine points and Carroll dropped in eight points in the effort. Daniel was perfect at the free-throw line, going 6-for-6. Downs also had a career-high three assists.
Belmont returns to action next week at the 2012 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Tournament, hosted by Mercer University. The Bruins have secured no less than a No. 3 seed for the conference tournament.