No. 10 Lady Vols hold off Belmont, 84-76

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Evina Westbrook scored 20 points to lead four Tennessee players in double figures as the No. 10 Lady Vols held off Belmont 84-76 on Sunday in their final tune-up before Southeastern Conference play begins.

Rennia Davis scored 19 points and Meme Jackson and Zaay Green each had 10 for Tennessee, which received a wake-up call on defense against the gritty Bruins.

Belmont (7-4), a perennial mid-major contender, gave the Lady Vols (11-1) all they could handle, rallying from an 18-point first-half deficit to take a brief lead in the fourth quarter.

But Tennessee managed to hit enough shots down the stretch to avoid the upset in the first meeting between the in-state programs since 1979.

Ellie Harmeyer finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds for Belmont, which outscored Tennessee 50-34 in the paint. Darby Maggard finished with 14 points, Maura Muensterman had 12 and Maddie Wright scored 10.

Both teams came out firing from distance, combining for eight 3-pointers in the first quarter. The Lady Vols were 6 of 8 from behind the arc, with Davis draining her first three attempts, to give Tennessee a 26-20 lead.

Tennessee had never hit seven or more 3-pointers in five straight games, but the Lady Vols easily reached that milestone by halftime.

Tennessee finished 9 of 13 from deep in the first half to enter the break with a seemingly comfortable 51-35 advantage.

But the Lady Vols would go cold from deep, failing to hit another 3-pointer for the remainder of the game.

Belmont went inside to stage its comeback, pushing around the Lady Vols near the rim and out-hustling them for loose balls. The Bruins outscored Tennessee 23-8 in the third quarter to trim the deficit to 59-58.

Maggard gave the Bruins their first lead since early in the first quarter with a layup for a 64-63 edge with 6:12 remaining.

The teams traded baskets before Westbrook helped spark a late run for the Lady Vols to remain in front for good.

BIG PICTURE

Belmont: The Ohio Valley Conference favorites played a challenging pre-conference schedule to prepare for their title defense. The Bruins faced three Power 5 conference teams, including two ranked in the AP Top 25 - No. 9 North Carolina State and No. 10 Tennessee. Belmont has yet to beat a ranked opponent since transitioning to Division I in 1997, falling to 0-20 all-time. But the second-half performance against the Lady Vols has to give the Bruins some confidence.

Tennessee: With six freshmen and sophomores playing more than 13 minutes per game, the youthful Lady Vols have to be happy with their record entering conference play. But they have to be concerned with how easily Belmont pushed them around as they prepare for the rigors of the SEC. Tennessee's only loss came to No. 6 Stanford, and they beat No. 13 Texas on the road.

UP NEXT

Belmont opens Ohio Valley Conference play against Jacksonville State on Thursday at home.

Tennessee opens Southeastern Conference play against Auburn on Thursday on the road.