NASHVILLE – The Panthers fourth quarter comeback fell just short in their 82-77 loss against the Belmont Bruins.
It was a battle on Thursday night for UNI as five players had a double-digit game against Belmont. It was the second game this season that five Panthers scored in double figures and the fourth game out-rebounding their opponent by 10 or more. Junior guard Cailyn Morgan set a new career high in 16 minutes of action, scoring 12 points and grabbing four boards.
“It was a tough loss but we got better today,” said Head Coach Tanya Warren following the game. “We’ve been talking about not beating ourselves recently and Belmont beat us. There’s a reason they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament six times in a row, and you have to give them credit.
“While this wasn’t the outcome we wanted, we’re better than we were last week. And we’ll be better than we were tonight on Saturday against Murray State.
UNI shot off to a quick start, sinking two straight buckets for an early 5-2 lead. While the first was mostly a back-and-forth quarter, Belmont hit five three-pointers to take the lead. The Panthers were able to get shots in between, while the defense limited any runs to only two shots. UNI sunk the last three of the quarter, trailing 29-22 after ten minutes.
The Panthers hit the gas in the second quarter, outscoring the Bruins by five. A six-point run in the first half of the second brought UNI within two. After the Panther run, offense on both ends would slow down as a trip for either team to the line where the only points scored for three minutes. The rest of the second was a blow-for-blow battle. UNI brought the gap down to only one on a fast break three from Morgan. Three shots in 40 seconds ended the half with the Panthers down by three.
The game became a full-on battle in the second half as UNI went back and forth with Belmont for the first five minutes of the third. While points were hard to come by, the Panthers pulled down nine boards while the Bruins only grabbed three. But Belmont put together an eight-point run midway through the quarter, putting UNI down by double digits.
The Panthers responded quickly as point guard Maya McDermott scored five points in under a minute. It was the last run of the quarter as the teams traded free throws in the final 10 seconds. UNI entered the final frame down by six with some momentum on its side.
Both teams struggled to get things going offensively at the beginning of the fourth, missing the first three shots. McDermott grabbed the first points of the quarter on a play that left her wide open in the paint. The battle continued to be back and forth until the Panthers broke out on a 9-2 run over three minutes to get the game back within their grasp.
Down by only one UNI had to pivot to defense as the Bruins responded with five straight points. Forward Grace Boffeli made a contested layup with just over a minute to go to put the Panthers back within two possessions. While Belmont made a layup of their own, McDermott hit her second three of the night from the top of the key to make it a one-possession game. But UNI couldn’t find another basket in the final 20 seconds, dropping its first game in Nashville 82-77.
The Panthers were 32-70 from the floor, 7-26 from three-point range, and 6-9 from the line. UNI had 12 helpers and led in several offensive categories including points in the paint, second-chance points, and fast break points. The Panthers also led on defense with 43 rebounds, four blocks, and three steals.
Boffeli led UNI with her 11th double-double of the season at 19 points and 11 rebounds. McDermott was right behind her in points with 16 while forward Cynthia Wolf had her best scoring outing of the season at 14 and almost picked up a double-double of her own with nine rebounds. Morgan and guard Emerson Green rounded out the Panthers scoring with 12 and 11 points.
UNI has one more road stop before the regular season comes to a close next week. The Panthers head to Murray State for the first time in over a decade for a matchup with the Racers on Feb. 25. Tipoff for Saturday’s game is set for 2 p.m. from Murray, Ky.