After suffering its first conference loss of the season two nights ago, the men’s basketball team held off a second half rally to defeat crosstown rival Tennessee State on Saturday night
While the Tigers outscored the Bruins 46-38 in the second half, a strong performance in the first half was enough to give Belmont the 79-65 victory.
“I got to give Tennessee State all the credit in the world for coming back out, playing hard and doing the kind of things that were going to be tough for us,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “We’re not putting together 40 minutes of basketball.”
Five Bruins posted double figures including senior forward JJ Mann, who led the team with 17 points. Freshman Evan Bradds added 13 points and six rebounds of his own and was crucial down the stretch in the second half for the Bruins.
“He is very unlike a freshman in terms of his presence on the court. We’re lucky he’s with us. ” Byrd said. “He was the best we had and thought he did great.”
Senior Drew Windler quickly opened up the scoring for Belmont with back to back threes in the first minute of the game, forcing TSU to burn one of its timeouts early.
Guard Jacquan Nobles scored the lone six points in the first five minutes for the Tigers and cut the Bruins’ lead in half with 15:29 to play in the first.
After M.J. Rhett made a free throw to trim the lead 16-7, the Bruins went on an 11-0 run behind strong shooting from behind the arc with three straight three-pointers from Spencer Turner, Reece Chamberlain and Mann.
TSU’s leading scorer Patrick Miller was held scoreless until the 7:39 mark when he hit a jumper and a pair of free throws to cut the lead 31-14.
Miller, who was ranked No. 10 nationally in PPG prior to the game, led the Tigers in scoring with 21 points and five assists on the night.
“Miller is an awful hard guy to keep in front of you, unless you have a team effort every time doing that,” Byrd said. “But that’s been our issue all year. We got to guard guys that can drive it better.”
A jumper before the buzzer from Mann gave the Bruins a 41-19 lead at halftime. The Bruins shot 53.1 percent from the field in the first while their defense held the Tigers to only 31.8 percent.
While the Bruins dominated on both sides of the ball during the first half, Belmont was silenced in the opening minutes of the second half as the Tigers completed a 7-0 run.
Not counting a free throw from Chamberlain, the Bruins were held scoreless from the field until Mann knocked down a three pointer with 12:56 remaining.
TSU continued to push forward and cut down the lead to seven points behind strong play from Rhett, who scored 13 points and eight rebounds.
“They did three things much better in the second half. They drove it more aggressive, threw it inside to Rhett, and concentrated on that,” Byrd said.
However, Belmont pulled away in the remaining minutes of the game, improving to 5-1 in OVC play and 13-7 on the season.
The Bruins will host a three-game home stand beginning Monday against Fairfield.