Joneiqua Gary, Jasmine McDonald and Tamara Nesmith combined for 14 points during a game-breaking 16-2 run as Mount Olive defeated Belmont Abbey 77-64 in Conference Carolinas women's basketball Wednesday at Belmont, N.C. Tamara Nesmith led four players in double figures with 21 points as the Trojans shot season highs of 61.2 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three-point range.
Mount Olive (15-8 overall, 11-8 Conference Carolinas) pulled away from a three-point lead in the final seconds of the first half and held Belmont Abbey (11-12, 10-9) scoreless during a four-minute stretch early to break the game open. A three-pointer and a jumper by McDonald gave Mount Olive its first double-digit lead at 47-36 with 17:30 left in the contest.
Alyssa Luebs' steal helped set up a basket by Nesmith and Luebs added a pair of free throws after a Trojan defensive stop. Another Belmont Abbey resulted in another Nesmith basket to cap the run and give Mount Olive a 53-36 lead with 14:46 remaining.
The margin never fell below 13 points the rest of the way. Mount Olive took its biggest lead at 77-58 after Nesmith's three-point play with 2:50 left.
Mount Olive trailed 16-10 midway through the first half before Luebs' layup capped a 6-0 run to tie the game. The game turned into a battle of three-pointers as Kirksten Mitchell and Gary connected for Mount Olive, while Melisa Foures and Caitlyn Ranson hit three's for Belmont Abbey to tie the game 24-24 with 4:49 left before halftime.
Nesmith converted a three-point play for Mount Olive with 4:29 remaining and the Trojans led the rest of the contest. Another three-pointer by Gary and a three by McDonald gave Mount Olive a 35-30 lead with exactly three minutes left. Belmont Abbey pulled within three on McKenzie Owen's layup with 10 seconds left, but Gary hit her third three-pointer of the half with five seconds remaining to give Mount Olive a 40-34 halftime lead and trigger the Trojans' scoring run.
Mitchell finished with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Mount Olive was 8-for-12 from three-point range, marking the fifth time this season the Trojans have taken at least 10 three-point attempts and shot 50 percent or better. Gary had 14 points and five assists, while McDonald added 11 points. Luebs flirted with a double-double with eight points and eight rebounds. The Trojans were 30-for-49 from the field.
McKenzie Owens was 10-of-14 from the field for Belmont Abbey and led all players with 23 points and nine rebounds. Mount Olive's defense limited the rest of the Crusaders to a combined 14-for-47 from the field (29.8 percent).
Wednesday's win moves the Trojans into a three-way tie for fourth place in the Conference Carolinas standings with three games left in the regular season. The top four teams in the final standings host first round games in the conference tournament, which gets underway March 5. Mount Olive has clinched one of the eight berths in the tournament.
Mount Olive plays its third straight road game Saturday as the Trojans travel to Gaffney, S.C., to take on nationally 10th-ranked Limestone in Conference Carolinas action. In the two teams' first meeting January 26 at Kornegay Arena, Mount Olive trailed by only one at halftime before falling 76-62. Tip-off is 5:30 p.m.