NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont men's basketball led from start to finish in defeating North Florida, 83-69, Monday night.
The Bruins scored on their first four possessions of the game in racing out to a 9-2 lead. An acrobatic tip slam from sophomore Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) and a baseline three-pointer from sophomore J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) extended the lead to 22-8 seven minutes into the game.
Two interior baskets from Travis Wallace got the Ospreys within seven, 24-17, before the Bruins answered back. Belmont found a nice offensive rhythm - both in the half court and in the open court - working for high percentage shots.
Senior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) added a layin to give the Bruins a 47-29 lead at halftime.
Belmont shot 47 percent (16-for-34) from the field in the first half - including 4-for-10 from three-point distance. The Bruins held North Florida to 34 percent shooting and forced 11 Osprey turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
Hedgepeth led Belmont with 10 first half points.
Baskets from Matt Sauey and Will Wilson got North Florida within 14 early in the second half, but two quick baskets from Jenkins provided a sound Belmont reply.
Though the game remained relatively free-flowing, the Ospreys slowly found their own shooting range and chipped away at the Bruin lead.
After junior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) gave Belmont a 53-35 edge, Sauey capped a solid UNF run to get the visitors within 58-47 with 13:05 left.
But another interior basket from Hedgepeth and a three-pointer from Clark pushed the lead back out to 68-51 with 9:34 remaining.
Nonetheless, strong play from Jimmy Williams and David Jeune helped inch the Ospreys closer. Two Jeune free throws made the score 72-63 with 6:03 left.
North Florida would get within nine points twice more, but each time junior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) delivered a darting drive for the Bruins.
Belmont would hold North Florida to one made field goal the final 4:50 of the game.
All told, Belmont shot 52 percent (30-for-58) from the field - including 8-for-19 from three-point distance. The Bruins shot 58 percent in the second half. Belmont handed out 21 assists on its 30 made field goals.
Johnson led four Bruins in double figures with 16 points. Jenkins tallied 15 points and seven rebounds, while Hedgepeth added 14 points and seven rebounds. Clark had 11 points and five assists.
Jerron Granberry led North Florida (11-13, 5-6 Atlantic Sun) with 12 points.
Belmont (16-7, 9-2 Atlantic Sun) returns to action Friday, Feb. 3 at Lipscomb. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. CT.
The game will be broadcast live on Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS) and ESPN3. The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network and 104.5 The Zone.