Kerron Johnson can’t explain Belmont’s second-half struggles.
But the sophomore guard was part of the solution Thursday against visiting Miami University (Ohio).
Johnson came off the bench, shot 6-of-7 from the field and scored nine of his career-high 15 points after halftime. It was enough to help the Bruins hold on for an 83-72 victory at the Curb Event Center.
“Kerron gave us a lift all throughout the game,” coach Rick Byrd said. “But when we came out flat, his driving and scoring got us reenergized.”
Belmont improved to 10-3, its best start since the move to the Division I in 1996 despite the fact that it again had trouble holding onto a big halftime lead.
The Bruins led by 15 late in the first half and took a 43-29 lead into the break. Miami (5-8) scored seven straight points after halftime and immediately got back into the contest.
Belmont has led by at least 10 points at the half in seven different games this year. In three, the opposing team has closed within six points or fewer.
Miami trailed just 69-65 with 3:25 remaining before Belmont pulled away.
“I don’t know, man,” Johnson said laughing when asked about the second-half woes. “They have been trying to figure that out since before we came [to Belmont]. I don’t know. It is just a mindset. We did it against Tennessee. We have shown we can do it when our backs are against the wall. We just have to focus more and we’ll get it done.”
Belmont hadn’t played since losing to Tennessee 66-65 on Dec. 23 in Knoxville. In that game, the Bruins trailed 35-23 at halftime but led twice in the last minute.
Against Miami, that sense of urgency wasn’t quite there — at least early in the second half.
“I don’t have the answer,” Byrd said. “Obviously our last game against Tennessee, we came out because we had to — our back’s against the wall. That is the mentality we need all the time. It really is not even just this year. So it has got to have something to do with me, I think. I've just got to figure it out.”
Even with the sluggish start out of the break, Belmont still led 65-52 with 6:26 to go.
From there, Miami went on a 13-4 run over the next three minutes. Belmont’s Ian Clark responded with a big 3-pointer on the next possession. After a Redhawks’ basket, Mick Hedgepeth hit a layup that started a 7-0 run and put the game out of reach.
“It was huge,” Byrd said of Clark’s 3-pointer. “It was huge because of the point differential. It was huge because Ian needed it.”
Clark, a sophomore guard, entered the game as the team’s leading scorer, averaging 12 points a game. However, he struggled the last two games, scoring just six points (0-for-4 on 3-point attempts) against Tennessee and only nine against Miami. He was 2-of-7 from the field and 1-of-5 from 3-point range.
“He is a great shooter,” Byrd said. “With 3-pointers, you just can’t look at one or two games. By the end of the year, he will be around 40 percent and nobody in our league wants him to get an open look.”
In addition to Johnson’s breakout day, Drew Hanlen (17 points) and Trevor Noack (11) both finished with career-highs for Belmont. Hedgpeth added 12 points and six rebounds.
For Miami, Nick Winbush scored 19 points.
• Memphis 88, Lipscomb 70: Adnan Hodzic scored 22 points and had seven rebounds but Lipscomb was unable — again — to upset a nationally ranked opponent.
The Bisons fell to 7-4 on the season with three of their defeats against Top 25 opponents. Memphis (10-2) started the week No. 21 in the latest Associated Press poll.
Hodzic scored the game’s first basket and Lipscomb jumped out to an early 4-0 lead, but Memphis went ahead to stay with a 10-point that made it 13-6 with 14:48 to go in the first half.
Hodzic then got the Bisons within a basket when his jumper cut the deficit to three, 35-32, with 2:01 to play in the first half. Memphis scored the final seven points before intermission and nine of the first 15 after halftime.
Josh Slater added 12 points and Brandon Brown chipped in 10 for Lipscomb, which had more steals and fewer turnovers than Memphis but was outrebounded 42-23.
Wesley Witherspoon had a game-high 28 points and led four Memphis players in double figures.
• Virginia Tech 74, Vanderbilt 68: Despite leading by 17 points in the first half, the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team fell in the championship game of the Hilton Garden Classic in Blacksburg, Va.
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Commodores, who fell to 9-4.
They led 36-21 with 19:29 to go in the game and were up 40-30 with 16:21 left. Virginia Tech went on a 20-2 run and took an eight-point lead with more than 10 minutes left.
Vanderbilt got within two, 61-59, with 3:40 but never regained the lead.
lJence Rhoads led the Commodores with 20 points. Hannah Tuomi (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Stephanie Holzer (11 points, 12 rebounds) each had double-doubles. Christina Foggie added 11 points.
Monet Tellier led Virginia Tech with a game-high 23 points.
Vanderbilt begins Southeastern Conference play at 2 p.m. Sunday at Mississippi.