STARKVILLE — There are plenty of reasons for Cameron Newbauer to be excited.
The Belmont women’s basketball coach loses one senior (Natalie Cohlmeyer) and returns his top eight scorers next season.
After losing 74-60 to Michigan State on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum, the third-year Belmont coach expressed optimism moving forward.
“That’s the great thing about this group, we are young,” Newbauer said. “We have to learn from this. We just won 24 games and won the league.”
Belmont (24-9) finished second in the Ohio Valley Conference regular season, but it swept through the conference tournament to earn a berth the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Junior Frankie Joubran scored a team-high 17 points, and sophomore Kylee Smith added 16 to keep the game competitive until Michigan State (25-8) pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Entering the game, Smith led the Bruins in scoring (15.3 points per game), but Sally McCabe, the team’s second-leading scorer (12.8 ppg.) scored three points. Lauren Thompson, the team’s fourth-leading scorer, (9.1) had two points.
“I hate to see some of our players who have led us most of the year not have their best game,” said Newbauer, whose program was making its second appearance in the NCAA tournament. “But I love that failure because of the resolve our kids have. Some of these kids are going to let this burn. They are not going to forget what they did in their first NCAA tournament appearance. I think that is what is going to drive them in the offseason.”
Newbauer believes the Bruins will be able to accomplish more in the immediate future. With so many players returning and the experience of an NCAA tournament under their belt, he is excited about the future.
“Our kids want more,” Newbauer said. “Those kids in the locker room and I believe we can do more. We have a lot of people coming back that are going to have that burn and desire to get better, like they have shown all year.”
With the struggles of some of his regulars, Newbauer needed the bench to step up.
Joubran came off the bench and scored a season-high 17 points. The Bruins scored 31 points off the bench, which was a big reason they stayed in the game until the fourth quarter.
Joubran averaged 5.6 ppg., but said she felt like she had a mismatch in the post with her quick first step.
“She did what she knows her role is, gave us a lot of toughness, points, and rebounds,” Newbauer said.
Joubran also had five rebounds, but Michigan State outrebounded Belmont 39-32.
The Spartans scored eight points off the bench.
With the victory, the Spartans are 12-2 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State lost to TCU as a No. 8 seed in 2003 and lost to Louisville as a No. 10 seed in 2012. It received a first-round bye in 1991 as the No. 4 seed, but it lost to No. 5 seed Oklahoma State in the second round.
In the previous 13 tournaments, the Spartans advanced past the second round three times. Michigan State beat Southern California in 2005 in the second round on its way to a runner-up finish to Baylor in the national championship game, beat Kentucky in the second round but lost to Duke in the third round in 2006, and beat Duke in the second round but lost to Iowa State in the third round in 2009.
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Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.