FORT MYERS, Fla. - - Behind six double figure scorers and strong defense, Belmont men's basketball defeated Florida Gulf Coast, 86-63, Saturday night.
Despite earning a 42-point victory against the Eagles Jan. 16 at the Curb Event Center, the Bruins knew that things would come much more difficultly in southwest Florida.
In fact, two quick three-pointers gave Florida Gulf Coast an early four point lead. But a three-pointer from senior Drew Hanlen (St. Louis, Mo.) capped an 11-2 Bruin run to give Belmont a 25-17 lead midway through the first half.
Belmont attacked a myriad of defensive looks from Florida Gulf Coast, but ultimately, defensive stops and early offense in transition continued to reap dividends.
The two opposing shooting guards - Belmont's Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) and Florida Gulf Coast's Christophe Varidel - put on an impressive display in the first half, each scoring 11 points.
A mid-range jump shot from sophomore J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) gave Belmont a 38-32 lead at halftime.
Belmont shot 48 percent (15-for-31) from the field in the first half - including 4-for-12 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded the Eagles 18-14 in the opening 20 minutes.
Though the Bruins had been averaging a 17 point halftime lead over their last seven games, Belmont simply built upon the modest lead in short order.
Three-pointers from Clark and Hanlen highlighted an 8-0 run to start the second half, giving the Bruins a 46-32 lead with 16:19 left.
After holding the Eagles scoreless for the opening four minutes of the second half, another Clark three-pointer and a conventional three-point play from Saunders increased the lead to 54-38 with 14:51 left.
The Bruins' torrid offensive pace continued as four points from junior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) and a tough layin from Hedgepeth made the score 67-48 with 10:53 left.
Belmont had to manage mild foul trouble in the second half, and Florida Gulf Coast was able to use aggressive drives to earn trips to the free throw line.
Nevertheless, a wing three-pointer from sophomore Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) gave the Bruins a 72-52 advantage with 7:55 left.
From there, Belmont worked its halfcourt offense for interior scores and free throws to close the game.
All told, Belmont shot 50 percent (30-for-60) from the field - including 10-for-26 from three-point distance. The Bruins handed out 24 assists on 30 made field goals, while committing just seven turnovers.
The Bruins held Florida Gulf Coast to 37 percent shooting, 29 percent in the second half.
Clark paced six Bruins in double figures with 17 points and six assists. Hanlen had 14 points and five rebounds, while Saunders scored 13 points. Johnson added 12 points and seven assists, and Jenkins and Hedgepeth each scored 11.
Mann had a career-high seven assists with zero turnovers.
Varidel led Florida Gulf Coast (12-13, 7-7 Atlantic Sun) with 11 points - zero in the second half.
Belmont (19-7, 11-2 Atlantic Sun) returns to action Monday at Stetson. Tip-off is set for 6 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.