NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont men's basketball used equal parts toughness and resolve to defeat Tennessee State, 75-62, Tuesday night, extending the program's home court win streak to 20 games.
The Bruins entered having won five consecutive games against Tennessee State, averaging nearly 82 points per contest.
But laboring to find points early, Belmont received a nice boost off the bench as sophomore J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) made his first three shots from behind the arc to give the Bruins a 17-12 edge.
But each time the Bruins appeared poised to break free, Tennessee State not only worked into a methodical halfcourt offense, but the Tigers sank contested baskets against the shot clock.
Patrick Miller's jumper got Tennessee State within 35-32 at halftime.
Belmont shot 38 percent (11-for-29) from the field in the first half - including just 4-for-16 from three-point distance. Nevertheless, the Bruins limited Tennessee State to 37 percent shooting.
The Bruins started the second half in fine form, with junior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) delivering a conventional three-point play and Clark pouring in another three-pointer.
Leading by seven, Johnson appeared to stretch the lead out even more on a coast-to-coast drive, but his basket was wiped out by an offensive foul call. Moreover, the play was Johnson's third personal foul - and with 18:22 remaining - he would be forced to the bench.
Tennessee State briefly seized momentum. The Tigers took advantage of several scramble plays - as the Bruins created deflections yet were unable to grab the loose ball, enabling the Tigers to attack recovering defense.
Miller's baseline three-pointer gave Tennessee State a 47-46 lead with 12:57 left.
That's when Belmont really sharpened its game on both ends of the floor. The senior post duo of Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) and Scott Saunders (New Orleans, La.) strung scoring possessions together, pushing the Bruins to a 58-50 lead with 7:39 left.
The Tigers would remain deliberate in its offensive operation, getting as close as 58-55 with 4:44 left on an M.J. Rhett conventional three-point play.
But as Belmont's defense tightened, Johnson scored five straight points to increase the margin to 63-55 with 3:54 to go.
After one Rhett free throw, Hedgepeth followed up his own miss to put Belmont ahead by nine, 65-56, with 2:42 left.
Two Clark layins and six Hanlen free throws in the final 55 seconds secured the victory.
All told, Belmont shot 48 percent (24-for-50) from the field - including 62 percent in the second half.
The Bruins outrebounded Tennessee State by nine after halftime.
Johnson led five Bruins in double figures with 16 points and five assists. Clark scored 14 points, while Hedgepeth added 13 points and six rebounds. Mann chipped in 11 points and a career-high nine rebounds. Saunders had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Miller led Tennessee State (3-6) with 17 points.
The Bruins have won six consecutive games, and 20 consecutive home games, the sixth-longest active streak in the nation.
Belmont (6-2, 2-0 Atlantic Sun) returns to action following exams Tuesday, Dec. 13 at Middle Tennessee State. Tip-off is set for 7:00 p.m. CT.
The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network.