The Belmont University women's basketball team (27-5) emphatically punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament for a second-straight season, defeating Eastern Kentucky, 94-64, Saturday afternoon in the 2017 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Championship. It was a near mirror image of the Bruins' record-setting 95-63 victory over the Colonels one year ago. Tied at 22, Belmont closed the first half on a 16-6 run to seize a 38-28 lead at halftime. From there, Belmont showcased its balanced scoring, unselfish play, versatile defense and strength on the backboards to pull away. The Bruins shot 64 percent in the second half in scoring 56 points after the break. Tournament MVP Kylee Smith (5'11''-F) (Alpharetta, Ga.) scored a career-high 30 points to pace four Bruins in double figures. Darby Maggard (5'5''-G-96) (Larwill, Ind.) had 22 points and eight assists, while Sally McCabe (6'3''-C-96) (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) capped off her remarkable tournament run with 11 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. McCabe recorded her 18th career double double. Maggard and McCabe earned All-Tournament Team honors. Mariah Massengill (5'5''-PG-95) and Shavontae Naylor (5'11''-G-93) each scored 16 points for Eastern Kentucky (12-20) Belmont is just the fourth team in OVC history to register an undefeated record in conference play and win the OVC Tournament Championship in the same season. The Bruins are just the second to do so in the league's current 16 game regular season schedule, joining Austin Peay (2002-03). The Bruins' 21-game winning streak is the longest in program history and is second-longest current streak in all of NCAA Division I (UConn). Lauren Thompson (6'1''-F-94) (Franklin, Tenn.) added 10, while Jenny Roy (5'11''-F-97) (Brentwood, Tenn.) continued her excellent play scoring six, dishing out six assists and grabbing six offensive rebounds. Senior Frankie Joubran (6'1''-F-93) (Goodrich, Mich.) added six points and eight rebounds, putting forth a great effort. Belmont is 35-1 in its last 36 OVC games and has won 25-straight conference matchups, including conference tournament runs the last two seasons. Belmont's 27 victories are its most in a single season since turning Division I and are the most of any OVC team since Morehead State won 28 in 1978-79. Belmont is just the eighth team in league history to record back-to-back OVC Tournament Championships. Belmont led 18-12 after the first quarter as both teams registered shooting percentages below 33%. Six different Bruins scored baskets in the first and Roy was particularly effective on the offensive glass, grabbing four rebounds off Belmont misses. After Eastern Kentucky struck first and led 2-0, Belmont rattled off seven-straight points, forcing the Colonels to call an early timeout with 7:23 on the clock. The Bruins went through a scoring drought for over four minutes, but finished the frame on a 6-0 run. The Bruins carried a 38-28 lead into the intermission as they finished the second quarter by connecting on their final three three-point after a sluggish start from beyond the arc. Belmont finished the quarter on a 16-6 run. Maggard knocked down a three on back-to-back possessions in the final two minutes of the frame, helping energize the Bruins. After an EKU miss with 10 seconds left, Belmont advanced the ball up the court and Smith rattled home a three-pointer from the corner at the first half buzzer. EKU opened the second quarter on an 8-2 run as it seemed like a lid was on the basket in the early going for BU, Joubran helped the Bruins provide an answer with a pair of jumpers. The Bruins and Colonels were knotted at 22-22 midway through the stanza. After starting 1-of-13 from three-point range, Belmont finished the half 3-of-3. Maggard led all Bruins with 10 points, while Smith scored nine. Joubran and McCabe each finished the first 20 minutes with six points. Belmont shot just 12-of-39 (30.8%) while EKU finished shooting 12-of-36 (33.3%). Belmont had 12 offensive rebounds in what was an intense and very physical first half of basketball. Maggard started off the third right where she left off converting on her first two attempts, both two-pointers. The Bruins came out determined in the second half making four of their first five shots and eight of their first 11. Belmont surged ahead to lead 57-40 over the Colonels with 4:53 remaining in the period. Smith owned the third quarter, scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting as the two-time All OVC pick helped the Bruins take control of the game. Belmont led 68-48 heading into the fourth, after outscoring EKU 30-20. In what was a pivotal quarter, Belmont made 12-of-18 (66.7%) field goal attempts. Maggard helped ignite the offense, dishing out five assists. The Bruins would continue to add to their lead by outscoring the Colonels, 26-16 in the game's final stanza. Smith and Maggard combined for 15 points in the quarter as Belmont shot a blistering 11-of-18 (61.1%) from the field. Senior Kia Perry (Gallatin, Tenn.) scored five points down the stretch much to the delight of her teammates. Belmont outrebounded Eastern Kentucky, 53-33, notching a season high in boards.
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