Lady Vols Head To Sweet Sixteen After Beating Bruins In Narrow Finish

Pictured: Lady Vol Sara Puckett being guarded by Bruins’ Destinee Wells and Madison Bartley. Photo: Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

In one of the most intense games of the NCAA Tournament, the Lady Vols of Tennessee held out to beat Belmont 70-67 on Monday night (March 21) at Thompson-Boling Arena.

With the win, Tennessee advances to the Sweet Sixteen, for the first time since 2016.

“I am super excited to be playing more basketball with this team,” said Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper in a postgame press conference. “Hats off to Belmont. That is one heck of a team. We knew they were going to fight for 40 minutes… I’m just so happy for this group. I’m really proud of them.”

Harper will be taking her second team to that NCAA stage, having led Missouri State to the 2019 Sweet 16 before being hired by UT in 2020.

The Lady Vols took a strong and early command over Belmont, solidifying a 35-23 lead going into halftime. The team was led by graduate Alexus Dye, who posted a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Tamari Key and freshman Sara Puckett were also in double figures with 18 and 12, respectively. Key and the rest of the UT team overwhelmed the Bruins with its size and athleticism.

“I was ready just because I knew my teammates had all that confidence in me,” said Puckett in a postgame press conference. “That just made me feel so free out there to be able to do the gift that God gave me to do: to shoot the basketball.

It wasn’t until the third quarter when Belmont sophomores Destinee Wells and Tuti Jones came alive and were able to tie it up at 46-46 with less than a minute to go in the quarter. Wells worked tirelessly to find shots wherever she could, and ended leading the Bruins in scoring with 22 points, while Madison Bartley contributed 16. Jones, who only scored one point in the first half, went on to score 17 points, finishing with six rebounds and two steals. Her second half performance was key for the Bruins comeback.

Belmont’s Tuti Jones. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics

The game came down to the wire with a lot of back-and-forth, but defensive plays from Key and a 3-pointer from Puckett with just 18 seconds left in the game sealed Tennessee’s fate.

“I can’t be more proud of a group than I am of our group,” said Belmont head coach Bart Brooks in a postgame press conference. “I’ve got the best job in the world, working for the greatest people in the world at the greatest university in the world. I still pinch myself when I walk across campus and say I get to work here every day. The best part of it is the people I get to work with, and these young ladies.” He continues, “This has been a hard and exhausting year. But, man, it has been fun to coach this group, and it beats working for a living, that’s for sure.”

The Bruins finished their season 23-8 with an OVC title, a March Madness win, and a fantastic performance against Tennessee. Though the team will be losing a handful of seniors, including Conley Chinn and Jamilyn Kinney, other power player such as Jones, Bartley and Wells have two more years at Belmont.

Joining the Missouri Valley Conference next season, the Bruins have set a foundation with this specific team.

“I would definitely say we’re going to leave here with our heads high,” Jones shared. “Like Bart said, it’s been a long season. We’ve grown so much together and we’ve grown a lot as a team. It was tough losing, of course, but we’re definitely going to leave with our heads high. We’re so proud of each other.”

Next up, the Lady Vols head to Wichita to take on No. 1 Louisville on Saturday, March 26 at 3 p.m. CT. Louisville is one of the best teams in the country, only losing four games all year and being ranked No. 4 nationally. Fans can catch the game on ESPN 2.

Belmont Women To Take On Lady Vols After Oregon Upset In First Round Of NCAA Tournament

Photos: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics

For the second straight season, the Belmont women’s basketball team busted brackets, upsetting a No. 5 seed in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. They will now face the Lady Vols in Knoxville.

On Saturday (March 19), the Bruins a No. 12 seed knocked out Pac-12 powerhouse Oregon 73-70 in an intense double overtime win. This was the program’s second-ever March Madness win after beating No. 5 seed Gonzaga in 2021.

It was a back-and-forth battle from these two high-powered teams. The Oregon Ducks have gone to four consecutive Sweet Sixteen’s, but the Bruins, led by coach Bart Brooks, made huge defensive plays late in the game, displaying the team’s toughness and discipline.

“I would say as a team, throughout the year, we have always focused on being tough and being together,” said sophomore Bruin Madison Bartley in a press conference. “Yesterday we really showed the world that we can fight through adversity and we fought through every single overtime that we went through. I think even if we would have went one more, we still would have fought through and won that game. I’m just proud of our team for fighting and sticking through it together.”

It was a huge night for the Bruins sophomore class as Tuti Jones led the Bruins in double figures with 22 points, six rebounds and four steals. Destinee Wells scored 16 points with seven assists, four rebounds and two steals, while Bartley scored eight points and picked up seven rebounds. Senior Conley Chinn played brilliantly, scoring 10 points and leading Belmont as its senior captain.

Belmont senior Jamilyn Kinney with a save that helped solidify the Bruin’s double OT win. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics.

Now the Bruins will face the University of Tennessee in the round of 32 at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday night (March 21). The Lady Vols are currently ranked No. 18 nationally and earned the No. 4 seed in the tournament. They handled No. 13 seed Buffalo with ease, winning 80-67 on Saturday. Led by junior Jordon Hurston, who averages 16.2 ppg and 9.4 rpg, the Vols may be the toughest opponent Belmont has faced all season.

Tennessee’s team is stacked with some super athletic players, such as Tamri Key who stands at six feet-six inches and averages 10.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, and has blocked an unprecedented 115 shots. Against Buffalo, Key scored 11 points and had 11 rebounds.

“I don’t think Tennessee has a shot blocker, do they? Do they have a good shot blocker? I don’t know. I’m kidding! They have a great shot blocker!” Brooks quipped in a press conference. “There’s a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. Tennessee is one of the best, most disciplined defensive teams that we’ll play against. They do a really good job of making things difficult… I watched a lot of film, and sometimes as a coach when you prepare for these games, you’re just waiting to get struck by lightning and have an epiphany about how we’re going to get it done. But I’m not sure I’m to that place yet.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff in our back pocket that we can use and our normal flow and concepts are going to get us some looks. As we play and as we understand how we’re being guarded in certain scenarios and situations, we’ve got to adjust and be ready to adjust. There’s a lot of different ways that we can attack them, but the biggest part of it is they’re really, really solid at that end of the floor. We’re going to have to work really hard to get shots, and when we get them, we got to make them.”

Belmont student fan section at Thompson-Boling Arena. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics.

The game will be historic, regardless of the result. If Belmont pulls off the win, it will be a massive upset and will be the first time in program history that a team heads to the Sweet Sixteen. If the Lady Vols win, it’ll be their first Round of 32 win in their last four tournament appearances.

“We say all the time that you’re never defending anything in this sport,” Brooks continued. “You’ve got to go take it. No one is going to hand it to you. It’s not going to be given to you. You’ve got to go take it. You’ve got to earn it. That’s the approach that our players have had all year, and as we enter this game, that’s how we’re going to look at it. Everyone handles [the pressure] differently.

“We’ve got an unbelievable baseball coach, Coach [Dave] Jarvis who told me pressure is like unicorns and dragons. Doesn’t exist. It’s not real. It’s in the mind,” he added. “Players and programs handle that differently, but we’ll try to use that to our advantage the best we can.”

Tennessee will take on the Bruins on their home court in Knoxville tonight at 6 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN.

Jordan Wright Leads Vanderbilt To Win Over Belmont In First Round Of NIT

Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Jordan Wright‘s 24 points led the Commodores to a commanding 82-71 victory over Belmont in front of a loud and rowdy Memorial Gym in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night (March 15).

The Music City rivals met for the first time since 2017 when the Bruins picked up its first-ever win against Vanderbilt.

This time around, the ‘Dores, led by the play calling from Jerry Stackhouse, overwhelmed a 25-win Belmont team to advance in the tournament.

The Bruins started off hot, hitting 50% of their total shots and shooting 56% from the 3-point line. Belmont hit seven of its first 10 shots, which included all three from behind the arc.

Vandy went down 32-21 with about seven minutes to go in the first half, but would go on a 10-0 run in less than two and half minutes. Quentin Millora-Brown hit the basket at the buzzer to give Vandy a 39-38 lead, its first of the day.

In the second half, there was a lot of back-and-forth scoring, as well as defensive opportunities, giving both teams hope to win and advance.

Belmont was able to keep it close, tying up with about four minutes left in the game. However, the size of Millora-Brown and Liam Roberts, who scored 14 points, just outmatched the Bruins. The Commodores bench also came in clutch, scoring 19 points while Belmont’s bench scored just eight.

Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr. started off slow, but ended up with 10 points and six assists.

Freshman Will Richard led Belmont in scoring with 22 points. He also led the team in rebounds with eight and three blocked shots. Team seniors Grayson Murphy (10 points) and Nick Muszynski (13 points) played well in the first half but struggled to compete against Vanderbilt’s size in the second half.

This was Vanderbilt’s first NIT win since 2015. They now move on to the second round of the NIT and will face the winner of the Dayton vs. Toledo matchup.

The date, time and location of that game are yet to be determined.

Battle For Nashville: Vanderbilt To Host Belmont In NIT Opener

Pictured (L-R): Nick Muszynski and Scotty Pippen Jr.

For the first time in five years, Belmont and Vanderbilt will play each other at Memorial Gym on Tuesday, March 15 after both teams were selected in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).

This will be the first time the two programs will play each other since 2017 when the Bruins beat the Commodores 69-60 at the Curb Event Center.

“We are excited about the opportunity to continue our season in the NIT,” says Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse. “Our players have competed at a high level throughout the season and we are thankful that the selection committee has extended an invitation to our program. We are looking forward to more games together on the court starting Tuesday in Memorial.”

Vanderbilt finished its season extremely strong with wins against Georgia and Florida in the SEC Tournament. The ‘Dores lost in the quarterfinals to Kentucky in a nail-biter with a final score of 77-71.

Junior All-Conference player Scotty Pippen Jr. has been the star of Vanderbilt’s season. Throughout his college career, he has scored 1,507 points and is 14th on Vanderbilt’s all-time scoring list. This season Pippen Jr. averaged 20.2 ppg, assisted 142 buckets and shot for 42% in the field.

Belmont had another successful season, winning 25 games with a OVC record of 15-3. Belmont struggled a bit this year, failing to hold its own against nationally ranked Murray State who blew out the Bruins in both of their meetings. Belmont ended its season losing to Morehead State in the OVC Tournament semifinals 53-51.

The Bruins were led by four graduate students, including Nick Muszynski and Grayson Murphy. Junior Ben Sheppard had a breakout year, averaging 16.4 and shot 38% from the 3-point line. Muszynski also had a good year offensively, averaging 15.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg and blocking 51 shots.

Vanderbilt currently holds a 4-0 record when playing Belmont at home. The Commodores are the No. 4 seed and will host Belmont on Tuesday at 6 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN2.

Belmont Women’s Basketball To Face Off Against Oregon In NCAA Tournament

Pictured: The Belmont Women’s Basketball celebrating its selection into the NCAA tournament during a party at Belmont University. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics

The Belmont women’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 12 seed and will play No. 5 seed Oregon in Knoxville on Saturday, March 19.

This is the seventh NCAA Tournament appearance that the Bruins have made it to the dance and the sixth in seven years. The team had another immaculate season, finishing 22-7 and winning the OVC Tournament Title with ease.

This year marks the third time and second consecutive season Belmont has earned a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins upset fifth-seeded and 14th-ranked Gonzaga 64-59 in the 2021 NCAA Tournament First Round, becoming the first OVC program to win a NCAA Tournament game since 1990.

The Bruins, led by 2022 OVC Coach of the Year Bart Brooks, are an extremely talented team. Sophomore Destinee Wells won OVC Tournament MVP for the second consecutive year after scoring 22 points in two games. Wells averaged 16.6 ppg, 129 assists, and shot 75% from the free-throw line. She was key for Belmont when they beat Gonzaga in March Madness last year, scoring 25 points.

Along with Wells, sophomores Tutti Jones and Madison Bartley will be major factors in the game. Jones, who was named 2022 OVC Defensive Player of the Year, dominated in conference play this year averaging 11 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and stole the ball 81 times.

Bartley had a breakthrough season being named to the OVC All-First Team. She averaged 11.7 ppg, 5 rpg and blocked 49 shots. She was second on the team in field goals made and shot for 52%.

Oregon finished the season with a record of 20-11 and went 11-6 in Pac-12 Conference play. The Ducks went on to lose to sixth-seeded Utah 80-73 in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.

This will be the first time the two programs will face each other, but Belmont is no stranger to Power-5 opponents.

Over the past years, Brooks has been determined to schedule extremely tough non-conference teams to help prepare the Bruins for the NCAA Tournament–such asGeorgia Tech, Arkansas, Louisville, Kentucky and NC State, just to name a few. This method proved victorious when the Bruins knocked out Gonzaga in 2021.

Belmont will play Oregon at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are available now and can be purchased through the University of Tennessee’s website.

Press Kit: A Confident Vanderbilt Team Gears Up For SEC Tournament

Scotty Pippen Jr. Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

After having one of its most successful seasons in recent years, the Vanderbilt men’s basketball team now prepares to make some noise in the upcoming SEC Tournament in Tampa, Florida.

Superstar junior Scotty Pippen Jr., who was recently named to the First Team All-SEC, has led the team in scoring with 20.5 ppg, steals with 61 and assists with 127. He decided to return to Vanderbilt after contemplating entering the NBA Draft at the end of the 2020-21 season.

The Commodores, who hold the No. 11 seed, will take on bottom seeded Georgia who has had an abysmal season, winning only once since Dec. 22. Vandy beat Ole Miss 63-61 to finish the season after dropping three straight games against SEC opponents.

However, their record doesn’t properly represent the real threat this team can be in the SEC Tournament.

Vanderbilt dropped those three games to Alabama, Mississippi State and Florida, losing all contests by five points or less. The ‘Dores also lost to Tennessee twice, the first time by eight and the second time by nine. Both times, Vanderbilt kept the games close until the Vols ran away with it at the end.

This Vandy team, led by head coach Jerry Stackhouse, has a lot to prove and is due for a major win, especially with Pippen most likely leaving at the end of the season.

“I think we’re in a good spot. We know that we had some great opportunities that we didn’t handle well down the stretch ourselves. We could easily be in a different situation,” Stackhouse shared in a virtual press conference. “If you think of not only the earlier games that we had an opportunity to win, but just those three in a row there, that changes where we are tremendously. We start talking about 18-20 wins. That’s a different conversation for postseason and things like that, especially in our league and how tough it’s been this year. 

“For us it’s just about focusing on the stuff within the game and not getting so much into the next game or the next opponent, but just trying to handle our business on a possession to possession basis,” he adds.

Along with Pippen, Jordan Wright will be a key playmaker for the Commodores. Wright averaged 11.7 ppg, with 45 steals and 6.3 rpg–the most on the team.

Defense will be key if Vanderbilt plans to make a run in the tournament and will need major defensive performances from Wright and Quentin Millora-Brown. Millora-Brown had 16 steals, 32 blocks and averaged 5.7 rpg this season for Commodore.

Vandy has one of its best teams in over five years and is built around a strong core of juniors and seniors. This may be their last chance to make some noise and win a few conference tournament games before their college careers are over.

“We’re going to go with our older guys. We’re going to go with our guys that have been around. That’s the hierarchy around here,” Stackhouse said. “This is the time where you count on your older guys and try to go out and get every game you can get.”

Vanderbilt faces Georgia tonight (March 9) at 7 p.m. CT. The winner of the matchup will then play Alabama on Thursday. The Crimson Tide recently dropped out of the AP Top 25.

The winner of that game will then face nationally ranked No. 5 Kentucky in the quarterfinals on Friday, March 11.

MTSU Turns Season Around, Earns No. 1 Seed Ahead Of C-USA Tournament

Donovan Sims. Photo: Courtesy of Middle Tennessee Athletics

MTSU’s men’s basketball team has had a season for the record books. The Blue Raiders turned its season from a losing one to finish 13-5 in conference and 22-9, earning the No. 1 seed in the Conference USA East.

Led by 2022 C-USA Coach of the Year Nick McDevitt, the Blue Raiders started off 9-6 before going on a 13-1 run. The team dropped its final two games in close matchups to Charlotte and Old Dominion.

As the top seed, alongside North Texas, MTSU will have a double-bye, opening the championship in the quarterfinals on Thursday, March 10. This year’s championship features all 14 teams and begins Tuesday, March 8 at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.

North Texas has been predicted to be the C-USA’s autobid to the NCAA Tournament, which means that MTSU will need to win out to make it to the dance.

Josh Jefferson led the Blue Raiders in scoring this season, playing and starting in 29 times and averaging 14.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg and shooting 40% from the field. He was named to the All C-USA Second Team. Another ket player for MTSU is freshman Teafale Lenard Jr. who played in all 31 games this season having 106 rebounds, 27 steals and blocking an outstanding 42 shots. He was named to the All C-USA Freshman team. Along with Lenard Jr., DeAndre Dishman will be extremely important for the Blue Raiders defense. Dishman averaged 4.7 rpg, stole the ball 35 times and blocked 20 shots.

All of these players will need to play their best basketball over the week when facing some of the toughest programs in the nation.

The Blue Raiders will take on the winner between University of Texas El Paso and Old Dominion on Thursday at 7 p.m. CT and can be watched on Stadium.

Belmont Women’s Basketball Team Wins Second Straight OVC Tournament Title

Pictured: The Belmont Women celebrating its win over Tennessee Tech in OVC Finals. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics.

For the sixth time in seven years, the Belmont women’s basketball team has won the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, punching its ticket to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

The Bruins wiped the floor with Tennessee Tech, winning 51-29 on Saturday, March 5 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana.

“I can’t be more proud of these young ladies than I am right now,” said head coach Bart Brooks in a postgame press conference. “With the ups and downs of the season, this was a grinding, tough and difficult season. We really challenged these players in our non-conference and got knocked down more than knocked other people down, but we kept getting up, fighting and competing. I think this group just has an unbelievable resiliency and toughness and when they got to the end of the season, they started playing their best basketball.”

Brooks has now led the Bruins to four OVC Tournament wins in his five seasons as coach and was named the 2022 OVC Coach of the Year.

Belmont’s defense paved the way for another OVC title, limiting Tech to shooting 9-of-52 from the field and forcing 17 turnovers. Belmont nearly held Tennessee Tech scoreless the entire final 10 minutes, scoring the first 13 points of the fourth quarter before a Golden Eagles 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.

“Defense wins championships and we all know that. Honestly, I can’t take the charges unless they make those girls drive into the paint. They do all the work on the outside and I’m just waiting for it,” said senior captain Conley Chinn in a postgame press conference. “It’s just incredible to be on the floor playing defense with these girls, especially when we have that fire energy, make them turn it over and steal it from them causing bad shots. Like anything it’s just a great feeling to be out there.”

Sophomore Destinee Wells dropped 22 points and was named the OVC Tournament MVP for a second consecutive year.

The team didn’t miss a beat throughout the game and shot 56% from the field in the second half, with nine players scoring. Wells also scored 20 points and shot for 50% from the field in the Bruins win over Austin Peay in the tournament semifinals.

Wells, along with fellow sophomore Madison Bartley, were named to the OVC All-Tournament team. Bartley averaged 13 points on 57.1% shooting and seven rebounds in the tournament.

“We worked so hard for this all season. To see it pay off with this great group of girls and amazing teammates is amazing,” said Wells in a postgame press conference.

Next up for the Bruins is the NCAA Tournament. On ESPN’s latest bracketology, Belmont is predicted to be a No. 13 seed. The Bruins won its first ever NCAA Tournament game in 2021, taking out No. 5 seed Gonzaga 64-59.

Selection Sunday for the Women’s March Madness is March 13 at 7 p.m. CT and can be watched on ESPN.