Belmont takes OVC championship in OT thriller
After taking the inbound pass from JJ Mann with less than 30 seconds in overtime, senior guard Kerron Johnson made his way to half-court with intentionality as a boisterous Belmont fan section raised to its feet, scanning the Murray State defense to set up a game winning jumper with 1.2 seconds left in the contest.
“That’s experience coming through. We’ve been down before, we’ve been down by 10, we’ve been down by 14 at their house,” said Johnson. “So at that time out, coach wasn’t mad, he was just like ‘Look guys, we’ve been here before. We’ve come back from this deficit before, and we can do it again, you just gotta believe that.'”
“When we broke that huddle everybody believed that, from the bench, to the coaching staff knew we had a chance to win this game, we just had to take it.”
The 70-68 win secured the Belmont Bruins a bid in the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row, their first as members of the Ohio Valley Conference.
“The only game I can think of in all the time I’ve had the good fortune to coach that was similar was our win over Lipscomb the first time we got to go in an overtime game, but this was more dramatic,” said coach Rick Byrd.
Murray State’s Stacy Wilson and Isaiah Canaan were able to help the Racers jump to an early 7-5 lead in the first four minutes as Blake Jenkins and Trevor Noack shot for a two and three, respectively.
Trevor Noack, Johnson and Reece Chamberlain were able keep the Bruins within a close 15-11 margin by the half’s 12-minute mark as Wilson continued to shoot well for the Racers.
“Those guys stepped up, that’s what makes our team so hard to beat, because you never know who’s going to step up,” Johnson said.
Belmont remained unable to score for the next four minutes until a JJ Mann steal and layup allowed the Bruins to hold to a 19-13 deficit.
With nearly a minute to go, a Johnson steal gave way to an Ian Clark layup, providing a desperately needed shift in momentum as the Bruins narrowed the Racer lead to four.
Mann would cut Murray State’s lead to one with a three beside the Racer bench with 45 seconds remaining in the half, and would help the Bruins take their first lead of the night with a jump shot as the clock dwindled down to nearly 10 seconds.
In the half, the Bruins were unable to notch a single offensive rebound compared to 10 on the defensive side.
Noack and Mann ignited the scoring effort for the Bruins in the second half, only to be answered by another Stacy Wilson three and free throws from Isaiah Canaan.
Murray jumped to a 38-28 lead four-and-a-half minutes into the second half that was ignited by Wilson and Ed Daniel.
In the next three minutes, a scoreless Murray team combined with layups from Clark, Brandon Baker and Mann allowed Belmont to come within two. A Blake Jenkins two tied the game at 38.
With less than a minute in regulation, and Ian Clark jumper brought the Bruins with in two.
Johnson’s jumper with less than ten seconds to go tied the game at 62, sending the game into overtime.
“He’s such a great driver that allows him to make plays and decisions based off of what the defense does,” said Clark, “We like taking him in those odds.”
A JJ Mann layup and Spencer Turner free throw allowed Belmont to take the lead over Murray 65-64 within the first two minutes of overtime, building up the momentum for Johnson’s late-game heroics.