Rookies Belker and Chea pull Princeton women’s basketball past Middle Tennessee State

In winning its season opener at home against Duquesne, Princeton women’s basketball witnessed the blossoming of Madison St. Rose as a new superstar for the Orange and Black. 

It was time for another coming-out party Sunday, this time by rookies Skye Belker and Ashley Chea, in a 65-60 comeback win to remember at Middle Tennessee State.

For Belker especially, it was sweet redemption in her second start of the season.  In her Monday debut against Duquesne, the Los Angeles native struggled to meet the moment.  She missed all 10 of her field goal attempts and committed five turnovers, the most of any player in the game.  

Chea, a 5-8 guard from Flint Ridge Prep in California, the same school where Kaitlyn Chen played high school ball, also experienced a challenging debut against Duquesne.  Coming off the bench for 11 minutes of court time, she scored three points on 1-for-8 shooting and committed two turnovers.  

But the early baptism clearly fired both of these freshmen players because in act two of their collegiate careers on the road against an outstanding MTSU squad that hadn’t lost at home in over two years, the two rookies stole the show.  

From the outset at the Murphy Center, it was clear that Princeton was going to have its hands full with the Blue Raiders, who, like the Tigers, are defending conference champions.  Middle Tennessee, who plays in Conference USA, established its inside game early in the contest, as Princeton struggled to handle Anastasiia Boldyreva, a 6-6 center from Moscow.  

Boldyreva notched nine points in the first half, and her powerful play in the paint helped draw Princeton into early foul trouble.  More on that in a moment.  

Meanwhile, the Tigers once again had difficulty finding their scoring touch early.  Trailing 19-12 at the end of the first quarter, Princeton was only 5-for-14 with the most glaring miss of the period coming from an airball on a wide-open attempted three by Belker.  Chea added to the first-year woes by muffing an open and uncontested layup after making a nice steal at center court.  

And then it all changed, like the lifting of a magic spell.  With 1:35 to go in the first half, Belker drew a shooting foul and netted two free throws to score her first points in a Princeton uniform. Apparently, the experience of seeing the ball go through the net lifted the lid from the basket and a monkey from her back, because moments later. Belker scored her first field goal on a layup to bring Princeton to within five, 31-26.

The second half began ominously for Princeton as the Tigers continued to be whistled for their close guarding of the Blue Raiders.  With 5:52 to go in the third quarter, Madison St. Rose picked up her fourth foul, which required coach Carla Berube to sit her sophomore scoring leader for the remainder of the quarter.  

Who was going to fill the void? The two rookies, of course.  Belker and Chea combined to score the Tigers’ next 13 points on a combination of clutch treys and mid-range jumpers to propel Princeton into the lead, 45-44, with 1:21 to go in the third quarter.  

A three by Princeton junior Katie Thiers, her third of the game, extended Princeton’s lead to 51-44, early in the fourth quarter, but there was anything but clear sailing ahead for the visitors, who were playing on a court where the home team had won 49 straight games.  

Midway through the fourth quarter, Kaitlyn Chen picked up her fourth and fifth fouls in quick succession and suddenly Princeton’s floor leader was disqualified from the game.  A minute and change later, Madison St. Rose was slapped with her fifth and final foul, and after two made free throws by Jalynn Gregory, Princeton led by only two, 57-55.  

With two minutes to go, Berube’s squad faced uncharted waters with the team’s two top scorers and floor leaders on the bench. It was becoming evident as the game wore on that Princeton was facing an uphill battle from the officials who were quick to whistle the Tigers throughout the game.  A glaring discrepancy down the stretch involving two reviews for potential intentional fouls – one by Ellie Mitchell of Princeton and another by Courtney Whitson of Middle Tennessee – highlighted the challenge that Princeton faced throughout the game.  The first review resulted in a call against Mitchell while the second inexplicably did not yield a similar result against Whitson.    

Despite these challenges, the Tigers kept their poise, especially Belker and Chea, who combined to sink six consecutive clutch free throws to maintain the Tigers’ tenuous lead.  Poetically, the clinching points came on two free throws by junior Amelia Osgood, a local product from nearby Brentwood, Tenn. 

It was the first-years who rescued Princeton in this one.  Belker led the Tigers with 18 points, while Chea finished second in scoring with 14 points and second in rebounding, collecting five caroms. Mitchell led all rebounders with 13.  

This was another gutsy win by Princeton made all the more impressive by the way it was accomplished and the venue where it occurred.  Princeton will now forever be known as the team that came to Murfreesboro and stopped “the streak.” 

And the two freshmen who struggled on Monday to gain their footing on the college hardwood – Belker and Chea?  They’re not rookies any more.  

1 thought on “Rookies Belker and Chea pull Princeton women’s basketball past Middle Tennessee State”

  1. This was one of the more impressive road wins in the Berube Era, for the way it was accomplished
    as much as the victory itself. Could be a factor on Selection Sunday.
    The final minutes seemed to take forever with the lengthy reviews, one of which occurred after a fairly obvious out of bounds call in favor of the Tigers.
    Schedule only gets harder as the California kids get a trip home.

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