NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Previous highs and lows, the triumphs and defeats, are all preamble now. Conference play has begun for the Belmont women's basketball team.
With two home matchups this week the Bruins begin their Ohio Valley Conference slate, that which will determine their tournament fate come March. Belmont welcomes Jacksonville State (6-5) to the Curb Event Center on Thursday at 5 p.m. with Tennessee Tech (8-3) coming to Nashville on Saturday at 3 p.m., respectively.
After hosting just four contests during their non-conference season, the Bruins (7-4) are set to play their first four conference games at home over the next two weeks. That just adds to the excitement that OVC play brings to all involved, said junior forward Ellie Harmeyer (Kenosha, Wis.).
"There's definitely a different feel to conference play. We've been preparing for conference season all year," said Harmeyer, who was named OVC Player of the Week on Monday after a 20-point, 10-rebound outing at nationally ranked [10/10] Tennessee.
"We love playing non-conference games and they definitely challenge us, but conference is always so much fun. We get to play against teams we're really familiar with, teams that are really familiar with us. Every conference win is a huge win for us and we're really excited for it."
Belmont, the three-time defending OVC Tournament champion, is riding a 46-game win streak against conference opponents that dates back to 2015-16. The Bruins were again voted preseason favorites by OVC coaches and media members before the 2018-19 season despite the graduation of three key seniors from last year's team.
Though Belmont has looked strong in the early goings – Harmeyer (14.3 ppg) and senior Darby Maggard (14.0) lead a balanced scoring attack along with do-everything senior Jenny Roy (10.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 4.9 apg) – several challengers for conference supremacy have made themselves known. UT Martin (8-3), whom the Bruins topped in overtime in last year's tournament final, leads the conference with 85.5 points per game, just ahead of Morehead State's (9-4) 84.8 points. Tennessee Tech has produced among the stingiest defenses at 59.5 points per game.
The Bruins tested themselves well in the leadup to OVC games, taking a pair of now top-10 teams to the brink in close loses to North Carolina State and then Tennessee. They may have learned even more in their non-marquee matchups though.
"I think just coming out every game with our full energy and full effort," Harmeyer said of Belmont's greatest lesson so far. "In some of the games in non-conference, we came out a little slow. I don't think that's something we can afford in the conference season."
Thursday's encounter with Jacksonville State is Belmont's "Dollar Days" with tickets to the men's/women's doubleheader only $1. The women tip off at 5 p.m. with the men playing at 8 p.m.
LAST TIME OUT
Belmont out-shot nationally ranked [10/10] Tennessee and rallied from an 18-point deficit to grab a fourth-quarter lead, but the vaunted Lady Vols fended off the upset attempt, 84-76. Belmont's Ellie Harmeyer scored 20 points and 10 rebounds and Darby Maggard added 14 points.
Belmont owns an 18-3 edge in games against Jacksonville State, including the past 11 meetings overall. The Bruins beat the Gamecocks 63-53 the last time they met in last season's OVC Tournament semifinals.
Belmont trails its overall series with Tennessee Tech, 24-26, but the Bruins have won the last 10 in the rivalry dating back five years. They won 78-59 the last time the teams played in Nashville a year ago and then 68-60 on the road.
COOKIN' IN CONFERENCE
Belmont has won 46 straight conference games dating back to the 2015-16 season, a streak that ranks second in the nation to only perennial national power UConn (116). The Bruins' 46-game streak against league opponents is the longest of any OVC school in women's basketball history (Tennessee Tech won 29 from 1989-91). They're the first team in OVC history to register back-to-back undefeated conference campaigns.
WATCH OUT FOR MAGGARD
Senior Darby Maggard is one of 35 players named to the watch list for the Wade Trophy given to the nation's top college women's basketball player by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association. She was also on the preseason watch list for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award as one of the top 20 shooting guards in the country.
RECORD REACHED FOR MAGGARD
With 16 points at Northern Kentucky on Nov. 21, Maggard became Belmont's career scoring leader in the NCAA era (since 1997-98) with 1,553 points. She passed former teammate Sally McCabe (1,540 points) for the top spot and now ranks sixth in Belmont's overall program history.
LIGHTS OUT SHOOTER
Maggard is third among active NCAA Division I players in career 3-pointers (351) and is first in free-throw percentage (92.8%). She is also No. 4 among active players in 3-point shooting percentage (42.9%), third in assists (588) and second assist-to-turnover ratio (2.78).
FREE THROW PERFECTION
Maggard is a perfect 14-of-14 at the free-throw line this season and has now made her last 34 free throws overall dating back to Feb. 8, 2018 of last season. The most consecutive free throws made without a miss in OVC history is 44 (Paige Guffey, Murray State, 2008-09).
OUT-SHOOT, STILL LOSE?
Belmont's loss at [10/10] Tennessee is the team's first since the 2015-16 season when out-shooting its opponent. Belmont had won its last 63 games when out-shooting its opponent dating back to an 81-79 loss at UT Martin on Feb. 15, 2016, the team's last loss to an OVC opponent. The Bruins are now 7-1 in such games this season, while 0-3 when being out-shot.
HARMEYER SHINES VS. LADY VOLS
Ellie Harmeyer was named Player of the Week by both the Ohio Valley Conference and the Tennessee Sports Writers Association after posting a double-double against [10/10] Tennessee. She scored 20 points and had 10 rebounds in the narrow defeat.
BELMONT VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Belmont is still searching for its first victory over a nationally ranked opponent since transitioning to the NCAA Division I level for the 1997-98 season. With their loss at [10/10] Tennessee on Dec. 30, the Bruins are now 0-20 all-time vs. teams ranked in the AP or USA Today Coaches Polls. Four of those meetings have come during NCAA Tournaments.
HARMEYER DOUBLED UP
Harmeyer is the only Bruin to have posted a double-double this season, doing so three times. She earned double-doubles at [10/10] Tennessee (20p-10r) on Dec. 30, vs. Arkansas State (17p-10r) on Dec. 21 and at MTSU (11p-12r) on Nov. 19. Harmeyer has six career double-doubles now.