NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Behind pressure defense and a career-high 24 points from senior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.), Belmont men's basketball defeated Stetson, 84-71, Saturday night.
Three integral parts of Belmont's winning tradition - Casey Alexander, Roger Idstrom and Steve Drabyn - returned to campus, this time on the visiting sideline.
Alexander, in his first year as Stetson head coach, spent the previous two decades as a member of the Belmont men's basketball program. First as a player for Coach Byrd and then as a 16-year assistant coach, Alexander is a member of the Belmont Athletic Hall of Fame.
Idstrom, now a Stetson assistant, spent the previous 11 seasons as an assistant coach at Belmont, and like Alexander, was a significant contributor to the Bruins' NCAA Tournament and Atlantic Sun Championship runs.
Drabyn, also on Alexander's staff, played for Coach Byrd from 2000-04, and ranks fifth on Belmont's NCAA era career scoring list with 1,237 points.
Needless to say, no opponent has ever had the working knowledge of Belmont's philosophies and personnel quite like Stetson.
And early on, one could say Stetson was out-Belmonting, Belmont.
With equal parts physical defense and sharp three-point shooting, Stetson built a 9-5 lead.
After Hedgepeth put Belmont ahead 13-12 midway through the first half, the Hatters used a quick 7-0 run - highlighted by a Willie Green jumper - to take a 22-15 lead with 7:05 left in the half.
Belmont labored against a switching Stetson defense, and missed shots and turnovers mounted.
But the strong inside play of Hedgepeth and timely shooting of fellow senior Drew Hanlen (St. Louis, Mo.) got Belmont within 31-29 at halftime.
Belmont shot 44 percent (12-for-27) in the first half - including 2-for-11 from three-point distance. Meanwhile, the Bruins held Stetson to 36 percent shooting, but seven of the Hatters' nine first half field goals were from behind the arc.
10 first half turnovers hurt the Bruin cause.
The Bruins opened up the second half with inspired play. An opening possession three-pointer from Hanlen gave Belmont a 32-31 lead. Belmont proceeded to force three Hatter turnovers, as one layin from junior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) and two baskets from junior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) increased the lead to 38-31 90 seconds into the second half.
Following a Stetson timeout, Belmont received two jumpshots from junior Trevor Noack (Keller, Texas) to take a 51-40 lead with 14:19 left.
Bruin pressure made Hatter passes and catches difficult, and in turn, long rebounds and turnovers triggered Belmont fast breaks.
Two baskets from Hedgepeth and a tough finish from redshirt sophomore Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) gave Belmont a 64-49 lead with 8:13 to go.
Jenkins would continue his spirited play, adding a conventional three-point play to bump the lead to 69-52 with 7:12 remaining.
But Stetson would continue to utilize the three-point line to hang around. Consecutive three-pointers from post player Adam Pegg got Stetson within 72-63 with 2:47 left.
The Bruins answered with a 7-0 run - highlighted by an acrobatic tip-in from Johnson with 1:58 left - to secure the victory.
All told, Belmont shot 54 percent (32-for-59) from the field - including 63 percent in the second half. The Bruins outrebounded the Hatters 35-26, and forced 19 Stetson turnovers.
Aside from Hedgepeth's career-high 24 points on 11-for-12 shooting, Johnson added 19 points, eight assists and three steals. Hanlen had 12 points and eight assists.
Pegg led Stetson (7-10, 4-3 Atlantic Sun) with 20 points.
Stetson made a Curb Event Center record (for Belmont opponent) 15 three-point field goals.
Belmont (12-6, 5-1 Atlantic Sun) returns to action Monday, Jan. 16 against Florida Gulf Coast. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. 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.