The Hatters (16-4, 7-1) lost for the first time in Atlantic Sun Conference play while Belmont (5-13, 4-3) remains in tie for third in league play.
It was the opening minutes of both the first and second halves that doomed the Hatters. Stetson was outscored by a combined 26-2 in the opening six minutes of the first and second halves.
“I have said that Belmont is on the upswing and they are playing well,” Stetson coach Lynn Bria said. “We didn’t play well and we didn’t deserve to win. They played a better game and, today, they were the better team.
“Most second halves we don’t start very well. This was just a bad night to not start well against them. The first six minutes at the start of the game just killed us. We were not active and, to their credit, they did what they were supposed to do and they were ready to play.”
Belmont opened the game on a mission. The Bruins jumped all over the visiting Hatters for the first six minutes of the game, racing out to a 15-1 lead before Victoria McGowan finally ended the nightmare with a layup at the 14:14 mark of the half.
Stetson battled from behind the rest of the half, closing to withing six points, 23-17, with 6:13 left, but Belmont answered, pushing the lead back to 12 points before settling for a 31-22 lead at the break.
The second half started with an 11-1 Belmont run that was again halted by McGowan, this time with a three-pointer. It was her only three-point basket of the game until the closing seconds.
Stetson never gave up the fight in the second half, and closed to within four points on a Sasha Sims free throw with 2:57 left to play. The next three Hatters possessions results in missed threes for both Sims and McGowan sandwiched around a turnover.
Belmont was a near perfect 13-of-14 down the stretch at the free throw line to keep the Hatters at arms length.
“We should never be in that position where we are hoping they miss free throws,” Bria said. “They are a good free throw shooting team, so you are taking a shot in the dark there.”
The Hatters shot just 30.9 percent from the field in the game and were out-rebounded by the Bruins 42-29. Belmont, on the other hand, shot 42 percent from the field and hit 19-of-22 free throws (86.4 percent) for the game.
Stetson was led offensively by McGowan with 21 points and Sims added 14. Belmont was led by 18 points from Molly Ernst and 17 from Haley Nelson, who posted a double-double with 10 rebounds.
Stetson will return to action on Saturday afternoon at the Edmunds Center when they host league leading Florida Gulf Coast at 1 p.m.
“The thing about this league is that you can’t spend much time, win or lose, on the last game,” Bria said. “We will take a look at this and hopefully have a better response next Saturday.”