Southeast Missouri State women's basketball team's season ends with loss to Belmont in OVC tournament
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There was a fearlessness to Bri Mitchell's game that couldn't be denied.
The first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference guard didn't expect Wednesday's game to be the last of her illustrious career with the Southeast Missouri State women's basketball team, but that didn't stop her from performing like the end was in sight.
Mitchell racked up a career-high 32 points to go along with eight rebounds, but it wasn't enough to overcome a balanced Belmont squad that had five players reach double-digit scoring, as the top-seeded Bruins used their imposing size to stifle the eighth-seeded Redhawks and pull out a 74-59 victory in the opening round of the OVC tournament at Municipal Auditorium.
With the loss, Southeast finished the season with a 13-17 record.
"They're talented," Redhawks coach Rekha Patterson said about Belmont. "They always have five players on the floor who can do something well, whether it's shoot it, drive it, catch and finish, play good defense. They're really well-coached -- a lot of credit to them."
The Bruins were led in scoring by Lauren Thompson, who finished with 16 points. Jenny Roy added 12 points and a game-high 14 rebounds and six assists, while Kylee Smith chipped in 14 points and nine boards for Belmont, which moves onto the semifinal and will face today's winner between No. 4 UT Martin and No. 5 Austin Peay at noon Friday.
The Bruins entered Wednesday 16-0 against league opponents in the regular season and improved to 25-5 overall with the win.
"We just had players step up at the right times when they had to make shots," Belmont coach Cameron Newbauer said. "... At this point, it's about surviving and advancing. It's about playing through mistakes. It's about the next play, and I think our kids did that. So we'll take it, and we're excited to play another day."
Southeast jumped out to a 7-2 lead to start the game when Adrianna Murphy scored underneath the basket on an inbounds play with 7 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the first quarter, but the Bruins outscored the Redhawks 19-5 for the duration of the period and held a 21-12 lead after the first 10 minutes.
A seven-foot jumper by Thompson gave Belmont a 9-8 advantage with 4:09 to go in the quarter, and the Bruins never trailed for the remainder of the game.
Patterson was pleased with her team's fast start but credited Belmont for adjusting defensively to put an end to the momentum.
"I thought we did have a really good start," Patterson said. "We like to start the game knowing what three plays we're going to run, and that gives us a little bit of confidence. And I felt like we were able to execute what we wanted against what we thought that they were going to do. And then they made some adjustments to that, and they made it a little bit tougher for us to get into the paint, which we like to do.
"They made sure we didn't get anything in transition, and we're pretty good in transition. But we weren't able to get the looks that we normally get. I thought they did a good job of trying to take away some of the things that we do well."
Mitchell hit back-to-back 3-pointers to trim the Redhawks' deficit to 21-18 with 8:03 remaining in the second quarter. She scored 14 points in the second period alone.
"For her to be able to have the game she had today, that's what seniors do," Patterson said about Mitchell, who shot 12 of 29 (41.4 percent) from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. "That's what kids from Memphis do, right? They play with such heart and passion, and I think what you saw today was a senior who was just going to go out here on this floor and give everything she had. I'm really proud and really happy for her."
Belmont responded with a 13-4 swing that ended when Jenny Roy converted a conventional three-point play that extended the Bruins' lead to 34-22 with 3:32 left before halftime.
Belmont scored 22 of its first-half points in the paint and led 41-30 at intermission.
"Everybody on the floor for us, at any given point, is capable of scoring," Newbauer said. "We just really focus on being ready -- when you're number's called, being ready. When you've got a shot opportunity, you've got to take that shot and be aggressive offensively."
The Bruins attacked the basket in the third quarter and never allowed their lead to dip below double digits. Belmont was 10 of 14 from the free-throw line in the third period alone, taking a 62-45 lead into the final frame.
Sally McCabe, the two-time reigning OVC Defensive Player of the Year, finished with 10 points, six rebounds and four blocks for Belmont, while Sierra Jones pitched in 11 points off the bench.
The Bruins limited the Redhawks to 32.4-percent shooting (23 of 71) from the field.
"They're a really good basketball team, and it's not just their offense," Patterson said about Belmont. "I think a lot of times, people may overlook their defense because they are so gifted offensively. They do a good job with their size of making it difficult for you to drive into the paint and making it difficult for you to catch and shoot because of their length, especially on the perimeter. And then they have Sally McCabe in the paint, who, if you try to drive it, she has the ability to block shots.
"They did a really good job, but I thought we kept fighting. And I thought it was somewhat of a ball game there in the fourth quarter. They get two offensive rebounds there, and that really hurt us. But a lot of credit goes to them."
The Redhawks used a 6-0 run to cut the Bruins' lead to 62-51 with 8:43 to play before the top seed countered with a 10-2 swing, building its largest lead of the game -- 19 points -- with 3:27 remaining.
Southeast struggled to find consistent scoring outside of Mitchell, who became the first Southeast women's player to score 30 points or more since 2009. The rest of the team shot 26.2 percent (11 of 42) from the field. Southeast finished 3 of 19 (15.8 percent) from 3-point range, with all of its 3s coming from Mitchell.
The Redhawks were out-rebounded 51-37. They scored 23 points on 16 Belmont turnovers and held the Bruins to a 27.6-percent clip (8 of 29) from the floor in the second half.
"I'd like to say that in that halftime, we talked about a lot of Xs an Os and adjustments that we made, but we didn't," Patterson said. "It was literally about the fact that they were playing harder than us, and you can't come in and talk about what adjustments to make when they're playing harder and wanting the basketball more than you do. You have to credit Belmont for that. I will say that our players came out in the second half ... and played much tougher and played much harder. Because of that, we were able to do some things well defensively.
"If you make a mistake, Belmont makes you pay, and that's why they are who they are."
It was also the final college game for Southeast senior Olivia Hackmann, who missed most of the conference schedule after re-injuring her foot in January.
She was medically cleared to return to the court Wednesday in a limited role off the bench and finished with five points and four rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
"This is just courage, and I told our players that if they can take anything, they need to take that from Olivia Hackmann because what she did was special," Patterson said. "Did she move like she was injured? Did she move like five weeks ago before she had surgery? No. I wish that we had another week so that she could continue to play and get back to the 'O' we know, but everything she did today, she gave us everything she had. And I was going to ride her. I was going to ride with her and Bri."
For Hackmann, the opportunity to return to the court couldn't come soon enough.
"I guess I've learned a lot over the past two years," Hackmann said, "but it's mainly just that you've got to keep fighting -- fighting through everything."
The Redhawks will lose only two players to graduation, but Patterson knows those two -- Hackmann and Mitchell -- will be sorely missed.
"We're going to miss these two right here," Patterson said. "You don't replace two 1,000-point scorers, right? You don't. We're going to be a different basketball team, but I do hope this program takes the courage of Olivia Hackmann and the fight of Bri Mitchell as we continue to build this program."
Patterson has guided the Redhawks to the conference tournament in both of her seasons at the helm.
While the results weren't what she expected, Patterson continues to leave a lasting impression on each graduating player she's inherited.
"Playing under Coach P is amazing," Mitchell said. "She's like another mom, and she also gets on me. We smile. We laugh. The relationship she has with each of us on the team is a good relationship and something you need as a coach."
Patterson said she likes to think of herself as a players' coach, and it showed in Wednesday's defeat.
The Redhawks played 12 different players against the Bruins, as depth continues to be a point of emphasis for the second-year coach.
"I am not a coach who says, 'You have to be in my top seven or you don't play.' If you can help us win, if you play as hard as possible in practice, I will reward that with game time," Patterson said. "I think that keeps you motivated. I think that keeps you playing hard and practicing hard and focused. I think that makes your practices even more competitive.
"... I want a team that has great depth, and I want a team that when you come in, you don't lose anything. And you bring something new to the table, and you can play fast and have fun while you're out there. You don't have to worry about getting tired because you know you can go as hard as you can, and then your teammates are going to come in and do the exact same thing. And you're going to get back into the game. I think that's a fun way to play. We're working on building our depth."