NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Before a boisterous home opener crowd, Belmont men's basketball used strong interior scoring and defense to defeat Trevecca Nazarene, 86-61, Monday.
The Bruins and Trojans, former NAIA rivals prior to Belmont's move to NCAA Division I, had not met since Jan. of 1997. Early on, Trevecca was quite assertive and lively, building a 15-8 lead seven minutes in on a conventional three-point play from Marquise Rudolph.
But junior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) helped Belmont shake off a sluggish start, spearheading an 12-0 Bruin run. A conventional three-point play from senior Scott Saunders (New Orleans, La.) gave the Bruins a 20-15 lead.
Though Belmont began to find a rhythm, it ran into arguably the best individual offensive player it has faced all season - no not someone from Duke, Memphis, or Middle Tennessee State - but Trevecca shooting guard Michael France.
France repeatedly made high degree of difficulty shots from all angles to keep the Trojans within reach.
Four Saunders points capped a 12-3 Belmont run to close the half and gave the Bruins a 40-30 lead at the break.
Despite shooting 54 percent (15-for-28) from the field in the first half, Belmont was just 4-for-13 from three-point distance. Moreover, the Bruins committed 11 first half turnovers.
Belmont rode strong second half defense to seize control. Holding the Trojans scoreless for the first seven minutes of the second half, the Bruins extended the lead to 49-30 with 13:20 left on a putback basket from redshirt sophomore Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.).
Johnson and senior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) largely carried the offensive load for the Bruins midway through the second half, as the lead grew to as many as 28.
Redshirt freshman Chad Lang (Marietta, Ga.) was extremely efficient down the stretch, going 4-for-4 from the field.
All told, Belmont shot 57 percent (33-for-58) from the field - including 25-for-31 from inside the arc. Belmont outrebounded Trevecca, 37-29, and forced 20 turnovers.
Johnson paced three Bruins in double figures with a career-high 16 points and six assists. Hedgepeth added 15 points and nine rebounds, while junior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) chipped in 11.
France led Trevecca (5-4) with 19 points.
Belmont has now won 17 consecutive home games dating back to the 2009-10 season.
Belmont (3-2) returns to action Thursday, Dec. 1 against Kennesaw State. Tip-off is set for 7:15pm CT from the Curb Event Center.
The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network. Live video streaming will be available via ASun.TV.