by Adam Pruiett
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Jennifer Towne converted a drive with 3.2 seconds left as the North Alabama women’s basketball team spoiled the season debut of Bellarmine, rallying from a 12-point deficit in the second half to pull out an 80-78 victory over BU at Knights Hall.
In their career debuts at Bellarmine, freshman forward Beth Bowers scored 20 points and sophomore guard Whitney Hartlage added 18. That duo combined for 31 points in the first half as the Knights (0-1) built a 45-37 lead over the Lions (1-0).
Junior guard Mackenzie Martinez chipped in 10 points and nine assists for Bellarmine, including a bank shot in the paint followed by a driving layup with 16.4 seconds left that tied the game at 78 with 16.4 seconds left. Martinez added five rebounds and three steals. After a timeout, Towne received the ball outside of the arc and curled around the left elbow, leaning for a go-ahead basket that skimmed over the rim and fell through the hoop with 3.2 seconds left for an 80-78 lead. Martinez came up short on her desperation heave. Towne hit 10-of-17 shots and poured in a game-high 26 points, including 15 in the second half.
Bellarmine threatened to run away with the game when sophomore guard Destony Curry sank two free throws for a 53-41 advantage with 17:14 left in the second half. However, North Alabama methodically chipped away at its deficit and the Knights went cold from the floor. The Lions overtook BU for the first time since midway through the first half with a 10-2 run culminating in a go-ahead score in the post by Mekena Randle with 5:33 left.
Bellarmine never regained the lead but also never trailed by more than four down the stretch. Martinez, who drew numerous charges, scored six of her 10 points in the final 2:17 as the Knights rallied back to tie with under 20 seconds left before Towne’s game-winning drive. Bellarmine Coach Chancellor Dugan spoke leading intothe game about how dangerous North Alabama was from 3-point range.
The Lions only made two trifectas but essentially ditched that aspect of their game in the second half, attempting only four shots from behind the arc and opting instead to attack the basket with penetration or feed the ball into the post. North Alabama was rewarded by shooting 52.9 percent in the second half. North Alabama jumped out to an 8-1 lead, but the Knights fired back with an 11-2 run behind a 3-pointer from Hartlage and six quick points from Bowers off the bench. Martinez collected three assists during the run.
Later in the first half, Bowers capped a 7-0 run with a traditional 3-point play to give the Knights a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until deep in the second half. Shay Trent followed Towne with 15 points and Randle tallied a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Defensively North Alabama held Bellarmine to 35.7 percent shooting overall while doing a much better job marking Bowers and Hartlage in the second half. Curry posted 12 points and five rebounds for Bellarmine, which canned 25-of-31 attempts (80.6 percent) from the free throw line, including 13 of 15 (86.7 percent) in the second half.
The Knights, who turned the ball over 31 times in last year’s loss to North Alabama, only committed five turnovers in the first half, but they accumulated 12 in the second half. Bellarmine hosts Cedarville at 7 p.m. (ET) on Tuesday.