With a one-point lead, an Ian Clark 3-pointer late in the first half was more than just the first long-distance shot the Belmont men’s basketball team made on the night.
Clark’s basket sparked a 21-5 run that pushed the Bruins to a 64-47 win over the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Thursday night at the Curb Event Center.
In addition to the three-pointer, the senior scored the Bruins’ first five points in the second half, leading to the run that kept the Blue Raiders behind for the rest of the game.
“We kinda got in a rhythm,” Clark said. “First half, they were doing a lot of different things defensively switching one through four and kind of got us out of our normal offense. Second half, we got into a rhythm and stayed with them.”
Belmont coach Rick Byrd was quick to also credit the Bruins’ defense in the 15-point win, the largest in the NCAA era versus the Blue Raiders.
“I thought that we were really good defensively,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “We were really fortunate Middle didn’t have a good shooting night, or as good a shooting night as they can.”
The Bruins trailed early in the game as they were soundly beaten on the glass. The Blue Raiders had five offensive rebounds in the first nine minutes as J.T. Sulton scored six straight points. Blake Jenkins’ put-back, the second offensive rebound for the Bruins at that point, gave them their first lead with just over eight minutes left in the half.
Belmont and Middle Tennessee exchanged the lead four more times in the half until Clark shot the team’s first 3-pointer on the night with less than four minutes to go. A J.J. Mann three that beat the buzzer gave them a 30-26 halftime lead. In the first half, the Bruins shot 44 percent from the field compared to MTSU’s 34 percent.
In the second half, Belmont took control of the game and never looked back. Clark’s five points, plus points by Kerron Johnson and Jenkins, built the Bruin lead to 17 points. By the end of the night, Johnson scored 17 points while Clark and Jenkins had 15 and 11 respectively.
“The play at the end of the half, coming out of the locker room, and getting it up to 10 by the first media timeout, you just can’t underestimate the value of that,” Byrd said.
Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said his team was simply outplayed, especially in the second half where they shot an anemic 23 percent from the field. Middle Tennessee had more free throws than baskets in the final 20 minutes of the game. No Blue Raider scored more than 10 points in the entire game.
“I just don’t think our key guys competed at the level that they needed to,” he said. “Belmont did, and that’s why there was a mismatch in the second half.”
The Bruins moved to 5-2 with the win. The team will travel to historic Allen Fieldhouse Saturday to face the ninth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks.
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