COLUMBUS, OHIO – For the Belmont Bruins, it was the same story with the same unwanted result.
In their fifth NCAA tournament bid in seven years, the Bruins fell again during the first round of play, losing to the Georgetown Hoyas 74-59 in the NCAA Midwest Regional’s opening round Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
For Belmont head coach Rick Byrd, the game was an eerie reminder of the Bruins’ 2007 NCAA tournament loss to the Hoyas. Georgetown came out Friday with a zone defense, something Byrd didn’t expect to see.
“It would be interesting to know if John [Thompson III] just felt that was a good thing to play us or whether he was worried to know how we would do against their man-to-man defense,” Byrd said. “They play less than a third [of games] in zone defense, and we’ve got good shooters. I just didn’t predict to face the zone or do as poorly.”
That poor shooting, combined with Georgetown’s offense and 61.2 percent shooting rate, put the Bruins in a hole they never emerged from.
Despite two early Belmont leads, the Hoyas took control of the game early with a 10-3 run that gave them a 26-15 lead halfway through the first half.
Strong play inside the paint from the Georgetown post proved to be the difference as they outscored the Bruins 44-20 in the paint during the game.
Despite the early deficit, Belmont was only down by nine points at halftime due to six made 3-pointers.
The Hoyas’ post play made it challenging for any inside offense to be successful, said senior Mick Hedgepeth.
“Those guys are big and long, they altered shots, and had a big presence,” he said.
Making only nine of their 23 shots in the first half, the Bruins struggled to convert opportunity into a viable offensive attack.
“I think ultimately we forced a couple of shots instead of kicking it out, which normally we’re pretty good at. Sometimes we tried to make the hero play instead of the smart play,” senior Drew Hanlen said.
In the second half, early Belmont fouls put them in trouble early, yet baskets from Ian Clark and Blake Jenkins kept the game close. At one point, the Bruins were only down six points to the Hoyas.
However, every time Belmont made a shot, Georgetown would answer with two of their own, bouncing their lead to 12 with 12 minutes to go.
“Georgetown was simply the better team pretty much from start to finish,” Byrd said. “We chipped away, we cut into single digits and they would make the right plays at the right time The better team won the game,”
Jenkins had a strong second half and was Belmont’s leading scorer with 17 points for the game. In the end though, his play wasn’t enough with the Hoyas’ size and defense.
“Blake made some big time plays for us tonight,” Byrd said. “Seventeen points in 25 minutes isn’t bad. If Blake can make more commitment, he’s an all-conference player in whatever league we play. He’s getting way better.”
The game also marked the last time seniors Hanlen, Hedgepeth, and Scott Saunders would play for the Bruins.
“We lose three important people,” Byrd said. “There may be a lot of guys between us and the top next year, and we’ve got plenty to prove.”