Belmont continued to be haunted by the inability to shoot from the arc in the first half but scored 63 points in the second half to defeat the Indiana State Sycamores 96-95 in their home opener Thursday night.
“I think Brian Ayers and our staff told our team afterwards, we played with an edge in the second half that we didn’t show in the first,” coach Rick Byrd said. “I really didn’t dream at halftime based on what all we had seen that we could come back and win that game.”
The nailbiter ended with a Blake Jenkins blocked shot after a questionable jump ball call that gave possession to Indiana State.
“I didn’t see much. I was just scared to death we were going to lose that game when we shouldn’t have. I was worried about the foul call and that kind of stuff. I couldn’t decide whether to call a timeout or not and that ended up working for us,” Byrd said.
Manny Arop put the Sycamores on the board first but was answered quickly by a shot inside the paint by Blake Jenkins. Both teams moved across the court quickly as the game was tied at eight at the first timeout.
Jenkins, JJ Mann and Chad Lang helped establish Belmont’s presence early in the paint, scoring six points to allow the Bruins to remain tied with the Sycamores.
“Chad was great. He came in, didn’t get to play the other night and he delivered. He got free throws he got rebounds. 10 points in six minutes– you multiply that out by 40 minutes and that’s a lot of points,” Byrd said.
By the eight-minute mark, the Bruins established themselves a little too well, committing four fouls since the previous timeout, enabling the Sycamores to jump to a 29-19 lead.
Despite a strong drive and layin from Craig Bradshaw, the Sycamores answered with a Khristian Smith three and Dawon Cummings dunk to extend their lead 34-23.
By halftime, the Bruins found themselves at a 49-33 deficit as they were yet to sink a three and committed 11 turnovers. Meanwhile the Sycamores shot 7-12 from the arc.
“We got bulldozed, they’re knocking shots down and we’re down double figures. We didn’t panic at halftime, we didn’t raise our voices at halftime,” Byrd said.
In the opening minute of the second half, Reece Chamberlain made a quick four points on the inside, causing the Sycamores to take an early timeout.
“Reece is a great athlete. He’s a winner. he’s a competitor. He may not do anything way above average, but you want him on the floor every possession. He epitomizes this team,” Byrd said.
The Bruins gained momentum, as Bradshaw nailed a three and a dunk, supported by twos from Chamberlain and Windler to cut the lead to 54-51 at the media timeout.
At the 8:42 minute mark, a JJ Mann steal and drive downcourt gave Belmont a 68-66 lead, their first of the evening.
From that point on, Belmont never looked back as the three point game slowly came back to life as threes from Bradshaw, Mann and Windler brought the perimeter game back to life while the post play held firm.
“It was a great night, important for our team. It’s a pretty young, pretty different kind of team with us and we need all the confidence we can get,” Byrd said.