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Belmont women use 27-3 spurt to ignite 71-53 victory over youthful NKU on Wednesday night

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

Freshmen are the cause of many residual effects in college basketball. The blue-chippers generate signing-day optimism for fans and coaching staffs, not to mention unrealistic expectations for immediate results. They bring an infusion of talent and, in many situations, a needed skillset.

They can also cause coaches and fans to age in a hurry as they adapt to the college game. Freshmen need time to adjust from being the go-to superstar in high school to handling a specific role in a more advanced system. They have totally different class schedules than in high school. In almost every situation, they’re living away from home for the first time. They’re adjusting to more than just basketball.

It’s also known as growing pains, college basketball style.

NKU freshman guard Taylor Clos drives against the Belmont defense. Clos finished with six points and five assists in a 71-53 loss. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Northern Kentucky University is blessed with an outstanding group of freshmen this season. Two of those recruits from local high schools — Taylor Clos from Campbell County and Ally Niece from Simon Kenton — are starting guards for the Norse. They’ve already made an impact at NKU, but no freshman is exempt from the growing pains of college basketball.

Clos and Niece received an up-close look at a veteran backcourt performer Wednesday night in Belmont’s Darby Maggard, who is one of the nation’s top shooting guards. Maggard scored a game-high 16 points and dished out four assists as Belmont posted a 71-53 victory over NKU at BB&T Arena.

“They’re an NCAA Tournament team every year, and a good measuring stick for us because we’ll face another team similar to them in Green Bay during conference play,” NKU assistant coach Kayla Bowlin said at the postgame press conference. “I think with our young team, you find a way to be consistent for 40 minutes. The first, third and fourth quarters we’re pretty consistent, and then we have that one quarter where we fall behind a little bit.”

Belmont (4-1) hit the youthful Norse with a 27-3 run in the second quarter to turn a 19-14 deficit into a 41-22 lead at halftime. The Bruins ran off 14 straight points to begin the spurt, and after a Kailey Coffey basket halted that scoring spree, the visitors used a 13-1 run to end the quarter.

Maggard buried a pair of 3-pointers during the second-quarter spurt, including a trey before the halftime buzzer to give the Bruins a commanding 41-22 cushion.

“They got a lot of those off second-chance opportunities, and they ended the game with 15 offensive rebounds,” Bowlin said. “That was a focus for us at halftime. They had 10 (offensive rebounds) at halftime and we challenged our team. We did a much better job in the second half.

“They were also able to knock down the 3s. They were 0-for-4 in the first quarter, and then they hit five on us in the second quarter.”

Belmont extended its lead to as many as 28 points in the second half and cruised to the win. It marked the first meeting between the two schools in 35 years.

Clos netted six points and dished out five assists for NKU, which shot just 32.2 percent from the field and dropped to 1-3 this season. The former Campbell County star also did an effective job defending Maggard in the first quarter, holding the Belmont standout to a single basket.

Emmy Souder powers toward the basket against Belmont defender Jamilyn Kinney during the second half. Souder finished with nine points and four rebounds. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“We were asking Taylor to do a lot tonight,” Bowlin said. “Taylor had a tough assignment. She did a wonderful job. She did a great job of getting over the ball screens. [Maggard] has been the player of the year in their conference, and she’ll probably get it again this year if I had to take a guess.

“We can’t say enough about Taylor’s effort there the first five or six minutes. She came out and I thought set the tone for our first-quarter effort on the defensive end of the floor.”

Niece, the other freshman in the NKU starting lineup, shot 1-for-9 from the field and finished with three points. Call it yet another learning experience for the NKU freshmen guards against an experienced, talented backcourt.

“I think playing competition like this makes them realize what level they have to play to, and the margin of error against a team like this is very small,” Bowlin said of the freshmen guards. “Our freshmen have the ball in their hands an awful lot. They just have to grow through it. They’re going to have to play through some of those mistakes and learn [from them].”

Jenny Roy and Ellie Harmeyer each added 13 points for Belmont, which is ranked No. 12 nationally in the mid-major poll. Conley Chinn scored 10 points off bench as the Bruins shot 43.3 percent from the field.

Maggard, who has been named to the preseason watch lists for both the Wade Trophy (top collegiate women’s basketball player) and the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award (top shooting guard in women’s college basketball), finished 3-for-5 from 3-point range. She is the NCAA’s top active career leader in 3-point shooting (43.9 percent) and free-throw percentage (92.7 percent).

Molly Glick, Kennedy Archer and Emmy Souder all scored nine points for NKU. Grayson Rose added eight points and 10 rebounds for the Norse, who committed 19 turnovers and were 10-for-31 from 3-point range. Belmont also outscored NKU in the paint by a 36-18 margin.

NKU returns to action Monday night with an 8 p.m. road game at Austin Peay.

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