In an emotional senior night, the Belmont men’s basketball team defeated Southern Illinois University Edwardsville 97-75 at the Curb Event Center on Saturday.
The Cougars played extremely aggressive and came out swinging, taking a surprising 32-22 lead over the Bruins with just under 10 minutes left in the first half.
But Belmont’s defense adjusted and played a heavy man-to-man defense, forcing two turnovers around half court, one of which resulted in a dunk from senior Kevin McClain.
Juniors Seth Adelsperger and Michael Benkert each scored career highs in the win against SIUE. Adelsperger scored 14 points and Benkert scored 13, going 3-3 from behind the arch.
Seniors Dylan Windler and McClain both played great final games at the Curb. Windler scored 18 points and rebounded 9.
Both Windler and McClain were engulfed with cheers and emotion from fans and family at senior night.
“It hit me quick. I didn’t really realize what was going on until Thursday night,” said Windler. “It obviously was a special night tonight. It was a packed Curb, really great crowd, and I think we played well.”
McClain’s performance was as solid as ever, scoring 13 points and grabbing 5 assists.
Senior night didn’t hit McClain until pregame ceremony began, he said.
“I was like, wow, this really is our last go-around in here,” said McClain.
Senior Mack Mercer didn’t suit up and take the court and hasn’t been able to all season long, after a season-ending injury cut his time short. Instead, Mercer has taken on a role as a mentor and coach for the younger athletes on the team and still found the joy in watching his fellow seniors play, he said.
“It’s been tough and unfortunate, but I’m still thankful for this year,” said Mercer. “It feels like yesterday that I was a freshman walking into summer camp for basketball, thinking, ‘wow I have so much time ahead of me,’ but five years passses really quickly.”
Head coach Rick Byrd was also recognized for his 800th win on Thursday with a post-game ceremony on the court. University president Bob Fisher presented Byrd with a basketball trophy, athletic director and former basketball player Scott Corley gave Byrd the game ball from Thursday and Windler presented Byrd a framed jersey with 800 printed on the back.
Byrd then gave a short yet emotional speech, and, like always, kept it simple and filled with thank you’s.
The Bruins improved their conference record to 14-2 with only two games left in the regular season.
Belmont will face UT Martin on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and then Southeast Missouri on Saturday at 7 p.m..
Photos by Carina Eudy and Melissa Kriz