JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Reminiscent of its 2011 Atlantic Sun Championship game performance, Belmont men's basketball used balanced offense and unified defense in defeating North Florida, 83-53, Monday night.
Following impressive victories over Austin Peay and Marshall over the holidays, Belmont was ready for a showdown with one of the emerging programs in the Atlantic Sun.
The Ospreys entered the game 6-0 at UNF Arena, and were 12-1 in the their last 13 games against non-BCS conference opposition, with the lone loss coming to Belmont in the 2011 A-Sun final.
Aside from the 87-46 victory last March, the Bruins also rallied from an 11-point deficit with 6:31 left to win at North Florida, 69-67, last February.
With that as a prelude, Belmont came in ready and focused.
Early on, North Florida used second chance points to build a 9-4 lead.
A three-pointer from senior Drew Hanlen (St. Louis, Mo.) got the Bruins going, and from there, the offense ran on all cylinders.
Meanwhile, the Bruins pressured North Florida at every turn, making passes and catches difficult.
After Parker Smith cut the lead to eight, the Bruins finished the half strong. Two more baskets from Hedgepeth and a three-pointer from Mann highlighted a 12-2 Bruin run as Belmont led 48-30 at halftime.
Belmont shot 55 percent (18-for-33) from the field in the first half - including 6-for-13 from three-point distance. The Bruins handed out 13 assists on 18 made field goals and committed only two turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
The Bruins gave North Florida no breathing room or comfort level, remaining hungry and focused throughout. Two more three-pointers from Hanlen increased the lead to 60-40 with 13:08 to go.
With senior Scott Saunders (New Orleans, La.) and Hedgepeth providing consistent inside scoring, Belmont found high percentage shots in halfcourt and transition. Five points from Baker gave Belmont a 77-47 lead with 3:50 left.
All told, Belmont shot 48 percent (31-for-64) from the field - including 9-for-22 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded North Florida 38-32 and forced 13 Osprey turnovers.
Saunders led five Bruins in double figures with 16 points and nine rebounds. Mann and Hedgepeth each scored 13 points. Hanlen added 12 points, six assists and four rebounds, while Baker scored 10.
Parker Smith led North Florida (7-8, 1-1 Atlantic Sun) with 10 points. With a strong team effort, the Bruins held co-leading scorer Jerron Granberry scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting.
Belmont (10-5, 3-0 Atlantic Sun) returns to action Wednesday, Jan. 4 at Jacksonville. Tip-off is set for 6:15 p.m. CT.
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.