January 21, 2014

Tornado take down conference leaders Belmont Abbey

BRISTOL, Tenn. – The King University women's basketball team won its second consecutive Conference Carolinas game, defeating conference leaders Belmont Abbey College 52-49 in a close-knit affair that saw the Tornado hold a lead for the final 36 minutes of the contest.

After the Crusaders (12-6, 6-2 CC) tied the game at seven, King embarked on an 18-4 run that resulted in a 14-point advantage midway through the first half. Belmont Abbey was undaunted, however, and slowly clawed their way back into the contest. The deficit was closed to as few as four points in the first half before King took a 35-24 lead into the half.

The Tornado (11-5, 5-3 CC) were led by freshman Sydney Harris, who scored ten points off the bench and collected five rebounds. King outrebounded the Crusaders 47-46 and saw its reserves score 26 of the team's 52 points. Alley Sprouse blocked two shots and pulled down nine rebounds.

Coming into the contest, King's field goal percentage defense ranked sixth among NCAA Division II teams and was tops in Conference Carolinas, allowing opponents to make just 34.1 percent of their shots. The Tornado improved upon that average on Tuesday, as Belmont Abbey made 19 of their 70 field goal attempts for a paltry 27.1 percent shooting. The visitors were held to just 11.1 percent shooting from behind the three-point arc, including going 0-for-12 in the second half.

The second half largely saw both teams trade baskets, with King's lead never dipping below a point and never exceeding seven over the final 18 minutes of play. The Tornado were tested throughout much of the half but withstood the Crusader comeback with suffocating defense and just enough offense to stay ahead. Belmont Abbey cut the lead to a point with 6:10 remaining, but three free throws, a Tia Keitt layup, and a Chelsea Bowling triple sandwiched around a Belmont Abbey jumper pushed the lead back to seven points three minutes later.

But the Crusaders would make one final push, aided by King suddenly going cold at the free throw line on a night in which they shot 10-for-14 from the charity stripe. The Tornado twice missed the front end of a one-and-one in the game's final minute and a half. The Crusaders closed to within a possession on a free throw of their own with 44 seconds remaining, but a lane violation negated the second attempt and King's lead remained three points. The Tornado missed a shot as the shot clock wound down, giving Belmont Abbey one final chance for the tie. But Melisa Foures' three-point attempt drew rim and the Tornado earned their fifth conference win of the year to move to a game and a half behind conference leaders Limestone College.

Belmont Abbey's Morgan Midkiff led all scorers with 15 points. She also totaled seven rebounds and dished out three assists. McKenzie Owen poured in 14 points, while Melisa Foures pulled down a game-high ten rebounds.

The Tornado travel to conference rival Lees-McRae College on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. tilt with the Bobcats. King defeated Lees-McRae when the two teams met last month in Bristol. The team returns home on Wednesday, January 29 to face North Greenville University with tipoff scheduled for 5:30 p.m.