JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - - Behind balanced scoring and a record-setting first half defensive performance, Belmont men's basketball defeated ETSU, 82-70, Monday night.
In Belmont's final trip to Johnson City in conference play - a place that saw the Bruins cut the nets down and earn NCAA Tournament berths in 2006 and 2007 and win six of seven prior games against ETSU - the team delivered a focused, purposeful performance.
Though the teams would combine for seven missed shots and three turnovers in the first 2:23, senior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) scored inside to give Belmont a 2-1 lead.
Junior Adam Barnes (Clarksville, Tenn.) added an offensive rebound basket moments later to increase the lead to three.
With Belmont playing its customary man-to-man defense and ETSU settling into its halfcourt zone, both teams labored to find offense.
Another Barnes basket ended a three minute drought to give Belmont an 11-5 lead midway through the first half.
Though Belmont had good perimeter looks rim out, the Bruins continued to challenge the Bucs inside, either via passes against the zone or attacking off the dribble.
In fact, the ETSU frontcourt duo of Isiah Brown and Lukas Poderis combined for five personal fouls in the first 10 minutes, straining the Buc rotation.
After Marcus Dubose got ETSU within 11-9, Belmont limited the Bucs to only one made field goal the final 8:28 of the first half.
Meanwhile, Barnes and Hedgepeth carried the Bruin scoring, combining on 11 points to give Belmont a 24-11 lead with 3:41 left in the half.
Senior Drew Hanlen (St. Louis, Mo.) added a three-pointer late in the half to give the Bruins a 27-12 lead at halftime.
Belmont shot 40 percent (10-for-25) in the first half - including just 1-for-9 from three-point distance. But the strong defense was the story, holding ETSU to 4-for-25 shooting and 12 first half points.
The Bruins had to weather a tough opening possession of the second half, as after one Sheldon Cooley free throw, Dubose made a deep three-pointer for a four-point possession to get the Bucs within 11.
But a quick response from junior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) in the form of a baseline three-pointer stemmed the tide. Hedgepeth would follow with a conventional three-point play.
And when sophomore Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) - who made his first career start - scored in transition off a Clark feed, the Bruins led 37-19 with 15:50 left.
Though Dubose would start to catch fire, Belmont attacked the ETSU defense with precision passing and strong finishes at the rim.
A three-pointer from Clark and another transition layin from Barnes put the Bruins ahead 19, 53-34, with 7:32 remaining.
The lone concern was Bruin fouls, as ETSU worked into the bonus midway through the second half, and brought the game to a virtual standstill from the free throw line.
Another three-pointer from Clark gave Belmont a 60-41 lead with 6:00 left.
But Tommy Hubbard would cap a 7-0 ETSU run to get the Bucs within 60-48 with 4:55 remaining. With the otherwise silenced ETSU crowd eager to get into the game, a quick three-pointer from junior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) pushed the lead back to 15.
To ETSU's credit, it played right until the final horn.
An interminable final three minutes ensued; with relentless ETSU drives from Sollazzo and Cooley, periodic turnovers, foul trouble and a handful of missed free throws, the Bruins closed the game well.
Belmont went 9-for-12 from the free throw line in the final 1:34.
It truly was one of the stranger games in recent memory, as the two teams combined for just 39 points in the first half and 113 points in the second half.
The 12-point first half defensive effort represents the fewest first half points allowed by Belmont since the school became an NCAA Division I member institution in 1996-97.
All told, Belmont shot 53 percent (29-for-55) from the field - including 19-for-30 in the second half. The Bruins outrebounded ETSU, 40-35, and forced 15 turnovers.
Hedgepeth played a solid all-around game, pacing five Bruins in double figures with 17 points and seven rebounds. Clark had 14 points and five assists. Barnes tallied a career-high 12 points and five rebounds. Johnson also had 12 points, while Hanlen added 10 points.
Dubose and Cooley each scored 18 points for ETSU (10-9, 5-4 Atlantic Sun).
Belmont (14-7, 7-2 Atlantic Sun) returns to action Saturday, Jan. 28 against Jacksonville. Tip-off is set for approximately 7:15 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 and 104.5 The Zone (joined in progress). Live video streaming will be available via ASun.TV.