When second half started for the Belmont mens’ basketball team Saturday night, they needed to rally from a small two-point deficit to the Stetson Hatters.
90 seconds later, nine points from Drew Hanlen, Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson gave them the lead they would never give up in a 84-71 win against the Hatters.
That opening run, fueled by three steals and a block on defense, was what put the Bruins over the top in the game, head coach Rick Byrd said.
“Athletic contests are games of momentum,” Byrd said. “When we got off to that start, I knew it was gonna be difficult for them to come back.”
Post play dominated the night for the Bruins, who scored 50 points in the paint and were led by Mick Hedgepeth, who scored a career high 24 points while making 7 rebounds.
The Bruins’ paint play was something Byrd wants to see more of from his team.
“We prefer to get the ball inside first, and then let the threes come second. Too often this year we’ve chosen to shoot the ball too quickly from the perimeter.”
With the paint play was the first game for Rick Byrd against longtime Belmont assistant Casey Alexander, who was hired to coach the Hatters last spring. The Hatters’ Belmont-like use of three-pointers, who made 18 of them in the game, was especially present. Byrd said he nothing was different about coaching against Alexander than in any other game.
After a Drew Hanlen three-pointer opened the game, the Bruins failed to score another three-pointer until Kerron Johnson hit a long-range shot with nearly a minute to go in the first half. The Bruins were 2 for 11 from long range in the first half, while the Hatters were 7 for 16 from the same range.
On their first possession of the second half, however, the momentum quickly shifted with nine Bruin points in 90 seconds. The Bruins gained a lead they never relinquished afterwards with their 55 second half points, including an acrobatic, foul-drawing basket from Johnson.
Hedgepeth led all scorers in points, and attributed his second-half success to the Hatters’ defensive scheme and his team’s effort.
“They were kind of getting in our grill and making plays early, but we kept pounding it inside. It seemed like they doubled Scott Saunders a little more than myself, and I just tried to work and get angles and take advantage of those opportunities when I had the chance,” he said.
After the win, the Bruins now are 12-6 on the season. Their next game is Monday night at home versus the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.