MURFREESBORO – Out of Middle Tennessee State’s nine blocked shots against Belmont, the final two were enough to seal the game.
The Blue Raiders, after giving up a second-half thirteen-point lead, used the two final-minute blocks by Marcos Knight and LaRon Dendy to hold on to a 65-62 win over the Bruins in Murfreesboro Tuesday night.
MTSU’s size and athleticism were major factors in the Blue Raiders’ win, said Belmont head coach Rick Byrd.
“They’re good in ways we can’t we be. They’re long and athletic. We got the ball where we wanted it a bunch of times and we never got it up to the rim. We did everything we normally do,” Byrd said. “We never get those shots blocked in practice, ever, and those guys made great plays.”
Despite the early Middle Tennessee lead, Belmont came back on a 24-7 run to take a four-point lead with three and a half minutes to go in the game. The Blue Raiders went without a basket for nearly ten minutes during the run that was led by five three pointers from Drew Hanlen, Ian Clark, and Brandon Baker. The Bruins’ defensive play during the stretch was also key, Byrd said.
The Bruins have to capitalize on those types of late-game advantages, Hanlen said.
“We’ve got to get that extra stop. We’ve got to get that extra score,” he said.
In the first half, the Blue Raiders took an early lead. After a Kerron Johnson five-point run tied the game at 15, the Blue Raiders went on a 14-4 run. Led by Dendy, who had 10 points and six rebounds on the half, MTSU took a nine-point lead into the half.
The Blue Raiders out-rebounded the Bruins 18-12 in the half, and used their size and multi-look defense to keep Bruin looks to a minimum. Belmont only made a third of their first-half shots, with only four three-pointers in the half.
“I was disappointed in the first 22 minutes overall. I just thought we were just better in the first half. It wasn’t because we weren’t trying hard,” Byrd said. “I did like to see our guys react and respond… To come back and end up with the lead on the road says a lot of good things about our team.”
The Bruins tied the game and took a one-point lead with a Johnson free throw, but then gave up a J.T. Sulton layup that gave Middle Tennessee the lead for good. While Belmont was never down by more than a basket, the blocks by Knight and Dendy and a contested Hanlen shot ended the Bruins’ hopes.
Dendy leads the Blue Raiders in all scoring with 20 points and nine rebounds. He was 10-for-18 from the free throw line for the line.
Hanlen led the Bruins with 16 points, and was followed closely by Johnson with 15.
The Bruins fell to 6-3 with the loss. They will play the Troy Trojans Thursday night at home.