Clark helps Belmont pull away from ETSU, earn bid

DOTHAN, Ala. -- Alysha Clark knew she'd get a chance to help Belmont earn its first NCAA Tournament berth.

Clark scored 11 of her 22 points in the final five minutes, most of them at the free throw line, and Belmont beat East Tennessee State 69-57 for the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament title Saturday.

"I needed to step up because I didn't feel I was playing the best that I could," said Clark, who also grabbed 16 rebounds. "I knew they would be fouling. Free throws are clutch and are what helps win or lose games. I just had to step up."

She did, and Belmont (25-6) earned its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament while sending East Tennessee State (20-11) to the WNIT.

Clark, the tournament's Most Valuable Player, hit 5-of-6 free throws and added a layup off a Shaundra Strayhorn pass during a 9-2 run ending with 3:02 left that helped the Bruins pull away from a one-point lead.

The league's player of the year, Clark hit two more free throws with 1:09 left to push Belmont's lead to 11 points. She had 15 points and 11 rebounds and made 9-of-10 free throws in the second half.

"Great players make plays and she made the plays down the stretch for them," East Tennessee coach Karen Kemp said. "When we fouled her, she stepped to the line and knocked them down."

Strayhorn added 18 points for Belmont and Jessica Bobbitt had eight points, 10 rebounds and six of the team's 11 blocked shots. Belmont dominated the boards, 52-37.

"Our defense was excellent," Belmont coach Tony Cross said. "There were times offensively where we struggled, but our defense was very consistent along with rebounding.

"We made them really work. They didn't get too many easy shots and it took them awhile sometimes to get a shot."

ESTU, the A-Sun's top scoring team, hit only 29.4 percent (20-of 68) from the floor and made 3-of-18 3-pointers.

Kemp said fatigue from the tournament took a toll on her players offensively.

"Some of the shots that we missed we normally knock down," she said.

Kelly Thurman scored 17 points to lead East Tennessee. TaRonda Wiles added nine points.

The Lady Bucs trailed by only one as late as 5:15 remaining in the game.

But the Bruins made 18-of-22 free throws after that to clinch the victory.