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Upset avoided

Courtesy of Ben McKeown
Courtesy of Ben McKeown


RALEIGH, N.C. – The Belmont women's basketball team put a scare in the nationally ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack on Wednesday, proving the Bruins' dream season from a year ago was no anomaly.

But foul trouble caught up with Belmont and NC State's post presence helped the [17/16] Wolfpack fend off the upset-minded Bruins in a 77-62 final from Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C.

Belmont (0-1) led nearly wire-to-wire in the first half, trailing for only 20 seconds before intermission in the season opener for both teams. The Bruins forced three turnovers in the opening three minutes and used their speed to keep the taller NC State (1-0) off balance.

"The whole month of October we focused on playing fast," said junior Ellie Harmeyer (Kenosha, Wis.). "We want to get the ball going, run the ball the entire game. We've really focused on conditioning so we can run the ball like that." 

Harmeyer led all players with 10 first-half points and Belmont pulled into the break with an overall advantage on the scoreboard. The visitors led 36-29 after freshman Conley Chinn (Jackson, Miss.) hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer for her first career basket.

As a top-20 team in the country tends to do, North Carolina State flexed its depth in the second half. The Wolfpack benefited from a third-quarter foul-fest to rip the momentum back in its direction. Belmont was whistled for six fouls to the Pack's none in the quarter and the home team went nearly two full quarters in between called fouls.

NC State didn't do much to take advantage of all those trips to the line and shot just 8 of 16 there – Belmont attempted just three free throws for the game – but the whistles helped slow things down and get the Bruins on the heels.

"We played with a little bit better pace in the first half," said Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind.), Belmont's senior point guard. "Obviously they're a really, really good basketball team and we need to be able to learn from this and keep that pace up for the entire game. If we can do that, we'll put ourselves in a better position to be in it at the end of games."

The Pack showed why pollsters around the country picked NC State so high. NC State shot  better than 70 percent in the second half on the strength of its play in the paint and put the game away with a 14-0 run in the fourth.

Maggard and Harmeyer each netted 13 points while senior Jenny Roy (Brentwood, Tenn.) posted a team-high 14. Roy nearly capped things off with a double-double, adding nine rebounds.

It's Belmont's second straight year opening up against a ranked opponent. The Bruins fell 96-73 at [22/21] Oklahoma in last season's debut before reeling off 31 wins in their next 33 games to reach a third straight NCAA Tournament.

This year's team is hoping for another deep postseason run and is encouraged by the way it contended with a stout NC State squad.

"That was fun. Those types of games are the games you live for," Maggard said. "We didn't win, but now know what we're capable of and where we can go. There's a lot of good stuff ahead for our team."

The Bruins will make their home debut next on Monday against Tulsa. That game is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Curb Event Center.