The Great Alaska Shootout had never included a 3-point barrage like that.
More than a week later, Belmont senior Ian Clark one-upped himself with what he believes was the first perfect shooting night in his life.
Yet, Clark’s two best performances this season have come in the Bruins’ only two defeats.
Clark made a Great Alaska Shootout-record nine 3-pointers and scored a season-high 29 points in a 74-71 loss to Northeastern two weeks ago. Last Saturday, he couldn’t miss against VCU. One game after making just one basket, he knocked down all 10 shots from the field for 24 points in a 75-65 loss.
“We would have got beat worse if he hadn’t. That’d be my explanation,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said laughing before practice Monday. “I don’t think one has to do with the other. There is no question we would have been beaten worse against Northeastern if he wasn’t 9-for-11 [from 3-point range]. You take what you get and I think often times the result doesn’t have anything to do with particular individual statistics.”
Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson is resisting reading too much into the correlation too.
His Bisons (3-3) get their second shot in the less than four weeks at former Atlantic Sun Conference rival Belmont (5-2). The teams meet on Tuesday at Belmont’s Curb Event Center (6 p.m., Comcast Sports South) for the latest Battle of the Boulevard.
Clark tore apart a young and inexperienced Lipscomb squad in both teams’ season opener on Nov. 9. He made five of his team’s 11 3-pointers and scored 19 points in an 89-60 victory. Sanderson said throwing out different defenses — along with stopping partner-in-crime and key distributer Kerron Johnson — is essential in hopes of slowing Clark down.
“He is a great player. He has played terrific,” Sanderson said. “We just have to do different things against him. You can’t give him a steady diet of any one particular thing. The beauty of it is we didn’t do anything that we really talked about doing prior to the last [Belmont] game. So there is no way for them to know what we were trying to do.”
Clark says the kitchen sink hasn’t been thrown at him yet. But that and more soon will, if he keeps up the hot shooting.
The slender, 6-foot-3 shooting guard ranks third in the country with a 57.1 3-point percentage. His 28 3-pointers are tied for the second most.
“I’m feeling good right now,” said Clark, who is averaging a team-high 17.9 points. “I’m getting a lot of shots up. I think I’m just being more aggressive and playing within myself and I think it is just paying off.”
Strong perimeter play is nothing new for Clark, who ranked among the top five in 3-point shooting in the A-Sun his first three years. But the former A-Sun freshman of the year and conference MVP says he is getting plenty of open looks this year.
“I think it is more coming off screens. Coach Byrd has put me in good position to shoot open shots,” Clark, a Memphis native, said. “My teammates do a good job of driving and penetrating and kicking to me. I’m just finding open spots and being ready to shoot. I have the easy job — just knocking it down. They’re doing all the hard work.”
Piling on too much work — or too many minutes — concerns Byrd.
With less depth than the veteran coach is used to, his five starters have averaged nearly 26 minutes or more. Clark leads the team with 31.8 minutes a game and has played more than 32 minutes in five games.
“I just worry more can those guys play as well when they’re tired,” Byrd said. “You start playing into 32 to 38 minutes ... and nobody gets tired on offense but everybody gets tired on defense. It affects that end of the floor.”
Yanking Clark prematurely right now would be ill-advised. He plans to keep shooting and scoring — even in defeat.
“I just try to put myself and the team in the best position to win,” he said. “I try to do my part. I think sometimes we’re going to come up short. But more than often if we have those kind of games I think we’re going to win them.”