MEMPHIS, Tenn. - - Belmont men's basketball pushed another nationally-ranked opponent, but several furious rallies came up short in a 97-81 decision at No. 10 Memphis Tuesday.
The Bruins, four days removed from a one-point loss at No. 6 Duke, were again poised to challenge one of the nation's best teams on a nationally-televised stage.
Belmont received an encouraging sign early, as just 53 seconds into the game Memphis big man Tarik Black was charged with his second personal foul. Junior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) put Belmont ahead 4-3 from the free throw line, before the Tigers began an impressive offensive spurt.
Four points from reserve Stan Simpson and three-pointers from Charles Carmouche and Joe Jackson highlighted a 13-0 Memphis run and gave the hosts a 16-4 lead five and a half minutes in.
Sophomore J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) quickly got the Bruins back in the game with seven points of his own. A Johnson layin and a basket from senior Scott Saunders (New Orleans, La.) pushed Belmont within 20-16 midway through the first half.
But just as Belmont seemed to find its offensive bearings – both from the field and the free throw line – Memphis delivered an answer each time. Wesley Witherspoon and Jackson kept the Tigers on top, though the Bruins closed to 34-32 on a layin from senior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.).
Four Tiger free throws and a conventional three-point play from Will Barton gave Memphis a 46-39 lead at halftime.
Despite shooting just 35 percent from the field and only 2-for-10 from three-point distance, the Bruins withstood a solid Tiger effort and were well-positioned for a second half push.
When Mann buried a three-pointer to open the second half, the Bruins clawed within 46-42 and had the Tiger fans scratching their heads. But the Tigers responded quickly, with seven points in 46 seconds to stretch the margin back to 11 and prompt a Rick Byrd timeout.
Belmont repeatedly got the ball to the rim – either via drives or post passes – but shots simply wouldn't fall. Moreover, the Bruins fought for 18 offensive rebounds but were unable to capitalize on enough putback attempts.
Two Jackson free throws increased the Tiger lead to 70-52 with 12:18 to go, but Belmont would not go away quietly. Embarking on another trademark run, the Bruins used teamwork, opportunistic defense and clutch shooting to get back into the game.
Consecutive layins from junior Adam Barnes (Clarksville, Tenn.) and Johnson got the Bruins within 73-66 with 8:16 left. Moreover, with Witherspoon mired in foul trouble, Belmont could rotate guard and forward rotations to keep players fresh for the stretch drive.
Two baskets from Black and a Barton teardrop stemmed the tide, but a baseline three-pointer from Clark got Belmont within 79-72 with 5:18 remaining.
Twice more the Bruins would close within seven, but Jackson orchestrated the Tiger press break well for scores to keep Belmont at bay. Memphis closed on a 13-4 run.
All told, Belmont shot 39 percent (26-for-67) from the field – including just 6-for-20 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded the lengthy Tiger frontline by 13, 42-29, including 18 offensive rebounds.
Mann led four Bruins in double figures with a career-high 18 points. Clark scored 16 points in his homecoming game, while Johnson continued his fine all-court play with 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Hedgepeth added 10 points and eight rebounds.
Memphis shot 64 percent from the field in the second half and 58 percent for the game.
Barton led the Tigers (1-0) with 23 points.
Belmont (0-2) returns to action Saturday, Nov. 19 against Towson as part of the EA Sports Maui Invitational Regional Games. Tip-off is set for 2:30pm CT from the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The live play-by-play can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network.