Belmont starts slow, blows past MTSU in area hoops showdown

Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 11:32pm

Once Ian Clark broke through, Belmont didn't stop and Middle Tennessee State failed to start back up.

Following Clark’s first 3-pointer of the night, the Bruins stormed away from the Blue Raiders for a 64-49 victory on Thursday night at Belmont’s Curb Event Center.

Belmont (7-2) won its fifth of six against MTSU (7-3) and improved to 31-1 at home since the 2009-10 season. The last three games in the rivalry had been decided by seven points and featured four overtimes but this time the Bruins cruised thanks to a 24-5 run over an 11-minute stretch.

Clark, a 58.3 percent 3-point shooter, struggled to get open early. With 4:11 left in the first half, he finally got some room and drained the team’s first 3-pointer. That pushed Belmont in front and sparked the flurry, which carried over into the second half. Kerron Johnson’s jumper with 13:37 left capped the spurt for a commanding 46-29 lead.

“It usually takes about a minute for Ian to make a 3,” guard J.J. Mann said. “It took us a while. Obviously we are a 3-point shooting team. They got a smart coach and good players so they know not to let us to shoot 3s.

"They were stopping us big time. Then once we hit one we got rolling.”

Mann sunk a huge 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded the end of the first half. Clinging to a one-point lead, he set a screen for Johnson and then popped out to receive a pass and sink the shot for a 30-26 halftime lead.

“The play at the end of the half and then coming out of the locker room and getting [the lead] up to 10 by the first media timeout [four minutes in] you just cannot underestimate the value of that,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “We got them back on their heels.”

Belmont finished with just four 3-pointers — three from Clark — and its defense got a boost from Blake Jenkins' career-high five blocked shots.

MTSU, though, was its own worst enemy. The Blue Raiders shot only 28.6 percent and made just seven of 31 (22.6 percent) in the second half. They missed point-blank layups and uncontested hook shots and jumpers and didn’t make a basket for more than six minutes.

No MTSU player scored in double figures. JT Sulton led the team with nine points, scoring just one point after halftime.

“I thought Belmont beat us in every facet of basketball,” MTSU coach Kermit Davis said. “I was embarrassed for our fans that drove over. I didn’t think we competed at all in the second half. Give Belmont all the credit. I thought they guarded us well.”

Johnson scored 17 points for the second straight game, 14 after halftime. Clark added 15 and Jenkins made all four shots for 11 points.

The Bruins quickly turn around and travel to No. 9 Kansas on Saturday. MTSU, which had won five of six and was coming off a 65-62 victory against SEC foe Ole Miss on Saturday, plays two more mid-state rivals next week. The Blue Raiders host Tennessee State on Tuesday before coming back to Nashville on Friday for a neutral site battle against Vanderbilt at Bridgestone Arena.

“There is no question this is and will prove to be a good win for our team,” Byrd said. “They’ve got a season to play and this wasn’t their night and I hope we had something to do with it. I’ll be real surprised if they don’t win 27 or 28 games. I think they’ll win [the Sun Belt Conference] and I think they’ll win the [league] tournament. They’ve got all the pieces.”