It only took 80 seconds for Belmont to take a lead they would never give up against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles Monday night.
Seniors Mick Hedgepeth, Drew Hanlen, and Scott Saunders helped Belmont race out to a 7-0 lead in a minute and 20 seconds, a lead that would continue to grow until the Bruins decisive 95-53 victory.
The Bruins outscored the Eagles 23-9 in the final eight minutes of the first half, which helped the Bruins build a commanding 49-19 halftime lead. The Bruins’ defense made it difficult for FGCU in the half, who shot only 28 percent from the field and committed 11 turnovers.
Subsequently, Belmont shot 50 percent from the field and knocked down eight three pointers in the first half. It was an improvement from Saturday’s game against Stetson when the Bruins hit only five three pointers all game.
“It’s important for our whole scheme to make shots from outside the arc. We also tried to throw the ball inside and help down with the post players,” head coach Rick Byrd said. “It was our focus on trying to get the play down inside that got us those shots.”
12 different players scored for the Bruins, as juniors Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark lead the team with 13 points each.
Sophomore JJ Mann also scored 12 points for the Bruins, including a buzzer-beater to end the first half.
“I tried to do my part, come off the bench, and get a little spark. I was fortunate enough to knock some shots down and get some points,” Mann said. “And it’s probably one of the best feelings ever hitting a buzzer-beater with everyone going crazy afterwards.”
FGCU freshman Eddie Murray opened the second half with a dunk and free throws for the Eagles, but the Bruins went on another run shortly after to extend their lead to 66-26.
All 15 players earned playing time in the second half, especially freshmen Chad Lang, Spencer Turner, and Reece Chamberlain. The three combined for a total of 20 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s nice to get them some minutes. Both of our post players are seniors this year so Chad has got to get himself ready for next year,” Byrd said. “People can see the kind of offensive threat that Spencer is. Reece Chamberlain came in and did a lot of good things. It was nice to see freshman coming in and improving chances to play the minutes that they did.”
Belmont will go on the road to face conference opponents USC Upstate next Saturday afternoon and ETSU Monday night.