In front of a national television audience and a packed crowd of 4,813 at the Curb Event Center, one Belmont Bruin stole the show in the men’s basketball team’s 81-62 victory against the Ohio Bobcats Saturday night.
After fighting through a knee sprain in the first half, senior guard Ian Clark scored 18 points and passed Wes Burtner to become the Bruins’ all-time leading scorer in the NCAA era with 1,835 points.
“I didn’t know about it until everyone started getting antsy towards the end, but it’s big. I’m at a loss for words,” Clark said. “I heard everybody saying congratulations already and I looked over and saw one of my old teammates smiling in the stands and that’s when I realized.”
Clark was one of four Bruins who scored 16 or more points over the 20-7 Ohio Bobcats in Belmont’s first nationally televised home game in the Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters.
“I’m at a loss for words after tonight,” coach Rick Byrd said. “This night was big for us. I think its good for Belmont to see where we’re heading to and where we are now. With everybody showing up, it’s great for us.”
Ohio began the game with intense defense play that forced three Bruin turnovers in their first four possessions and led to five quick Ohio points.
However, guard play by Kerron Johnson and Clark helped Belmont settle into their offensive rhythm on what would be an 11-1 run after junior JJ Mann opened up the offense with a three. By the first media timeout, they held a 7-5 lead.
Typically known for their three-point shooting, Clark and Johnson continued to lead the Bruin offense by driving into the lane and scoring in the paint. That penetration led to three point success for the rest of the team as Mann, Trevor Noack and Craig Bradshaw went 5-for-9 from three-point range during the first half to give Belmont a 41-24 lead.
Heading into the second half, Ohio started the half on a 14-5 run. But with the Bruins shooting 51 percent from the floor, Belmont maintained their lead the rest of the game.
By end of the game, all eyes were on Clark as he hit two free throws to set the program’s NCAA points record.
“He (Clark) is a terrific young man and a great guy to coach. He, and this senior class, has taken this program into being nationally competitive.” said Byrd.
While Clark scored 18 points on the night, Mann and Noack had 17 while Johnson scored 16. Ohio’s leading scorer was Reggie Keely with 12 points.
After Saturday’s win, Belmont is now 22-6 with two conference games remaining. Byrd was cautious, yet confident in his team’s position to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
“It’s probably smart to stay away from the tournament talk, but a convincing win over a good team like Ohio is always going to help thrust you forward,” Byrd said. “Our RPI has been awfully high all year long, and a win like this really proves that we are deserving of the rankings.”
The team will host SIU Edwardsville Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.
– Ryan Combs