Fans at the Curb Event Center gathered to honor seniors Blake Jenkins, Drew Windler and JJ Mann before the last home game of their college careers, and they graciously thanked the crowd with a Bruin victory over OVC opponent Eastern Illinois, 82-63.
“We just wanted to come out and give the fans the last taste on Senior night; we just wanted to go out on top,” said Jenkins.
After sitting out the last game due to an Achilles injury, Jenkins returned to action tonight.
“We wanted to go out as winners,” he said, “Me and JJ, we’ve only lost two games in this gym since we’ve been here. That’s a huge accomplishment. So we didn’t want to make it three tonight.”
Jenkins earned his first points of the match with back-to-back slam dunks 9 minutes into the first half.
After being named First Team Academic All-American earlier today, JJ Mann led the scoring for the Bruins with 21 points on the night. Craig Bradshaw was close behind with 20, Windler had 16 and Jenkins had 15.
“We shot really well. I’m not sure how many threes we made, but it felt like a lot,” said Mann.
The Bruin’s 3-point game was better than ever, quickly scoring nine 3-pointers as before the end of the first half. Belmont scored a total of 13 3-pointers on the night.
Percentage-wise, both teams shot well in the first half; however, Belmont was able to create more shots than the Panthers, earning them a Bruin lead at 37-31 going into the locker room.
At that point, the game was fairly clean, the halftime score did not include any points for either team from foul shots. Each team only had four fouls apiece in the first half.
“I felt like we weren’t really being that aggressive in the first half and in the second half we started to get some steals and points off of turnovers,” said Mann.
The Bruins stepped up their defense in the second half and it propelled their offense.
“We came out in the second half and really turned it up defensively and that lead to a great offense,” said Jenkins.
Coach Rick Byrd said he gave his team many different tips on how to step up their defensive.
“Our numbers in the second half defensively were much better,” said Byrd. “The second half was just a good half, period.”
Halfway through the second half, the Bruins, shooting 63 percent on the night, led 64-52.
With four Bruins in double-digit scoring, Belmont improved their lead to a game-high 20 points, the score 75-55 with 7 minutes remaining.
All three seniors made a collective final exit from the game accompanied by a standing ovation to end the match and earn the win at 82-63 Belmont.
“I couldn’t really think of a better way to go out. Belmont wins, so I’m happy,” said Mann.
The Bruins return to conference play when they face SIU Edwardsville at 7 p.m. next Wednesday in Illinois.