By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — The Lady Vols were 24 seconds away from missing the Sweet 16 once again, but a pair of missed free throws and a clutch three pointer enabled the to ultimately escape Belmont 70-67 Monday night. It marks the first time since 2015 that the Lady Vols have gotten out of the NCAA women’s Tournament’s second round, and the 70-67 win negated a gallant Belmont effort.
The Lady Bruins, a 12 seed, erased a 14-point deficit and held the lead until the Lady Vols’ Sara Puckett hit a three-pointer with 18 seconds left. “They didn’t blink,” Tennessee coach Kellie Harper told the Associated Press said. Tennessee advances to their 35th regional semifinal. But Belmont showed everyone they were capable of competing with anyone.
“We proved that we can keep up with anybody,” sophomore forward Madison Bartley said. “We didn’t come up with the win. But being that close with Tennessee is something that we should be really proud of — and something that the world should look out for next year.”
Belmont’s coach Bart Brooks also praised his team’s effort.
“We don’t view ourselves as small or mid-major,” Brooks said. “We view ourselves as equal.”
Tennessee wasn’t the only area women’s team advancing in post-season play. Vanderbilt continued its surge with a 71-45 victory over Liberty in the WNIT’s second round. Iyana Moore had 25 points, including seven three-pointers. Jordyn Cambridge broke the single season record for steals, getting her 125th. The win sets up another battle between area teams as Vandy faces MTSU Saturday. The Vanderbilt men faced Xavier in the NIT quarterfinals Tuesday. They outlasted the top-seeded Dayton Flyers 70-68 Sunday at Memorial Gymnasium. The MTSU men’s team faced ACU Wednesday in the College Basketball Invitational.
Unfortunately the team many thought would go further in postseason play than anyone else bowed out in the second round. A 22-9 run in the game’s final minutes by Michigan propelled them to a 76-68 victory over Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA men’s Tournament. A dismal shooting performance that included missing 16 of 18 three-point attempts proved too much for the Vols, negating a magnificent 19 point effort by Kennedy Chandler, The Volunteers ended the year 27-8, but at least won the SEC Tournament.