EVANSVILLE, Ind. – No. 2 seed Belmont women's basketball took down top-seeded UT Martin, 83-75, Saturday afternoon in the OVC Championship game to earn an automatic bid to the 2021 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship.
The Bruins (20-5) logged their fifth conference tournament title in the last six years to become only the third OVC program ever to win five titles in a six-year span.
Freshman guard Destinee Wells scored a career-high and program championship game record 32 points en route to tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Wells became the first freshman to garner OVC Tournament MVP honors since 2011.
Wells also added a team-high seven assists and four steals, while three other Belmont players tabbed double-figure points. Junior guard Jamilyn Kinney, who tabbed 15 points and five assists, also earned OVC All-Tournament Team honors alongside Wells.
Overall, Belmont shot 54 percent from the field, knocked down 12 threes, dished out 18 assists and recorded 31 points off turnovers on the afternoon. The Bruins led for all but 50 seconds of the OVC Championship bout.
The Skyhawks (20-5) were led by 19 points from sophomore forward Dasia Young, who posted a team-high 19 points.
Belmont leapt out to an early 4-0 lead following buckets from Kinney and Wells, as it held UT Martin scoreless until the 4:51 mark of the first period. Junior forward Conley Chinn and Kinney knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to keep the Bruins up 10-6 with 2:26 remaining. A jumper from sophomore forward Cam Browning helped Belmont to a 14-12 advantage going into the second quarter.
The Bruins rode a 12-0 run for nearly three minutes to take a 28-16 lead by the midway point of the second period. The Skyhawks answered with a quick four points, but a three from freshman guard Tuti Jones put Belmont up 31-20 at the 4:16 mark. A combined eight points from Kinney and Wells to end the quarter secured a convincing 41-26 Bruin lead through two periods of play.
At the half, Wells and Kinney meshed for 24 of Belmont's points, as Wells racked up six first-half assists. The Bruins nailed seven 3-pointers and shot 53 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes, as they also registered 19 points off turnovers.
UT Martin cut its deficit back to 10 points by the six-minute mark of the third quarter, but the Bruins would still hold them at bay. Five quick points from Wells and a fastbreak bucket from freshman forward Madison Bartley put Belmont up 53-40 with less than four minutes left. A triple from freshman guard Whitney Hay and another layup from Bartley kept the Bruins ahead by a 60-44 margin at the end of the third period.
Despite timely baskets from Belmont, the Skyhawks still whittled their deficit back down to 10 points by the 5:50 mark of the final quarter. After a fast break layup from Chinn, UT Martin cut the Bruins lead down to 70-63 with five minutes remaining in the game. Wells took over the next three minutes, scoring nine-straight points for Belmont to extend its lead back out to double-digits. The Skyhawks made a late 3-pointer, but the Bruins hung on to record the 83-75 conference title win.
Bartley finished with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and added five rebounds as well as four blocks. Chinn rounded out Belmont's double-digit scorers with 11 points and a team-high six rebounds. Hay, Browning and Jones combined for the remainder of the Bruins' 12 points.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY: Despite a lower number of games played in the 2020-21 season, Belmont secured its 20th win this season in the OVC Tournament title game. It has reached the 20-win mark in each of the last six seasons.
WELLS TAKEOVER: Freshman guard Destinee Wells set a new program record for points in a conference championship game (32). She tied men's basketball legend Justin Hare, who scored 32 points in the 2006 Atlantic Sun Championship.
ETCHED IN HISTORY: The Bruins logged their fifth conference tournament title in the last six years to become only the third OVC program ever to win five conference championships in a six-year span. The last two programs to do so were Middle Tennessee (1983-88) and Tennessee Tech (1989-93).
UP NEXT: Belmont will learn of its NCAA Tournament seed and opponent on NCAA Selection Monday, March 15 at 6 p.m. CT.