Ella Sawyer drives to the rim in the Governors’ OVC Tournament game against Belmont. MICHAEL DANN | OVC ATHLETICS

For the second straight season, the APSU women’s basketball team had a chance to upset Belmont in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.

But, for the second consecutive time, the Governors were unable to execute in the game’s waning moments. The Bruins bested APSU in the inaugural round to advance to the semifinal stage.

“To advance and to win, you usually have to beat a really good team, and I think that’s a really good basketball team that played well today,” said Belmont head coach Bart Brooks. “I have a ton of respect for coach [David] Midlick and his program.

“Those players in that other locker room, it’s a tough feeling to spill it like they spilled it and their season to be finished at this point.”

The seventh-seeded Govs had their hands full from the jump in having to defend the OVC Freshman of the Year in Destinee Wells and a program that most recently put up 89 points in regulation.

Despite not finding an offensive rhythm in the first 10 minutes, APSU nearly held Belmont to single digits through one quarter and were only down six when entering the second.

The Bruins attempted to find a rhythm offensively in the second and had a 12-point advantage with 5:24 before the half. The Governors responded with what could have been their best stretch of basketball all season, finishing the final four minutes with 17 unanswered points. A last second field goal from Wells halted the run, but still gave the Govs a 27-24 lead at the break.

APSU’s lead and resurgence was surprising in of itself, considering they were without starter Maggie Knowles, who was seen in a walking boot before the opening tip. In addition, seniors Kelen Kenol and Myah LeFlore did not see action, and guard Tahanee Bennell aggravated an injury in the second quarter. She did not return after seeing six minutes on the court.

Belmont tied the contest four separate times in the third, and an and-one opportunity from Madison Bartley gave the Bruins a 39-37 lead that they took into the final frame.

Freshmen Tuti Jones and Wells would connect midway through the fourth to put Belmont up 48-41, but five straight points from Brianah Ferby kept the game within reach. Ferby was tied with freshman Kemia Ward as APSU’s second leading scorer on the evening with eight points and was one of four players to score at least nine.

It was a one-possession game for the final 4:51 of the contest, with APSU receiving a chance to tie or win it in the final minute of play. Unfortunately for the Govs, both possessions produced turnovers and allowed Belmont to extend its lead at the line. A final missed opportunity from the Governors saw the Bruins bleed out the game’s last seven seconds.

“We didn’t play perfect, but we played hard and gave effort,” Midlick said. “I thought we followed the game plan about as well as we could, defensively, against a really talented Belmont team that came into the tournament really rolling offensively, so I couldn’t ask much more. When you hold them to 54 points, you have to find a way to score 55.”

The Governors finish their season at 12-11 and graduate five seniors. Brianah and Brandi Ferby, Kelen Kenol, Tahanee Bennell and Myah LeFlore finish their APSU career with 61 wins and four consecutive OVC Tournament appearances.

“Myah and Kelen didn’t play much at the end of the year, but I couldn’t ask for better attitude and what they’re about,” Midlick said. “I think the world of how they’ve handled things and what they’re going to do in the future.

“[Brianah] and Brandi, leaving this program better than they found it when they came in here four years ago, and the same thing with Tahanee. She never had a bad day of practice, she made the team better on the court during games and during practices and energy. We’ll miss them. They’re five really good ones.”