MACON, Ga. - - Belmont men's basketball used a strong second half surge to defeat East Tennessee State, 69-61, Friday in the 2012 Atlantic Sun Tournament Semifinal.
The Bruins had won the previous six meetings in the series, including two this season, but ETSU and its six-man rotation would play well throughout.
An Adam Sollazzo jump shot gave ETSU an 18-10 lead nine minutes in.
But Belmont stayed the course, playing sound defense and riding the all-court play of junior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.).
Seven first half points from junior Trevor Noack (Keller, Texas) got the Bruins within 24-21, before consecutive baskets from Marcus Dubose.
Sophomore Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) scored insider to trim the margin to 28-26, before Tommy Hubbard banked in a desperation three-pointer as the shot clock expired to give ETSU a 31-26 halftime lead.
Belmont shot 36 percent (8-for-22) in the first half - including 5-for-16 from three-point distance.
The Bruins would hold ETSU scoreless the first 4:33 of the second half. Junior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) capped a spirited 9-0 run as Belmont claimed a 35-31 lead with 16:15 left.
Freshman Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) and Clark would add three-point field goals to extend the lead to 44-35 with 13:14 left.
After Hubbard made the score 46-40, senior Drew Hanlen (St. Louis, Mo.) would make consecutive three-point field goals to give Belmont a 52-40 lead with 10:31 left.
ETSU's short rotation would suffer a blow when Isiah Brown fouled out with seven minutes remaining.
But behind six combined free throws from Sollazzo and Dubose, ETSU got within 56-51 with 5:06 left.
Clark would reply with a wing three-pointer to increase the Bruin lead to eight.
But ETSU did not back down. A Sollazzo tip-in got the Bucs within 59-56 with 2:55 left.
As he has done throughout his career, Johnson made a timely offensive play, a three-pointer on the next Belmont possession to push the margin back to six with 2:32 left.
After a Hubbard pullup jump shot, Belmont got a huge blocked shot from senior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) which led to a Clark fast break layin and a 64-58 lead with 1:12 left.
Sophomore J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) added two free throws moments later.
All told, Belmont shot 48 percent (22-for-46) from the field - including 12-for-28 from three-point distance. The Bruins shot 58 percent in the second half.
Clark led Belmont with 19 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Johnson had 12 points and four assists.
The Bruins committed only nine turnovers.
Sollazzo led ETSU (17-14, 10-8 Atlantic Sun) with 16 points.
Belmont (26-7, 16-2 Atlantic Sun) returns to action Saturday, Mar. 3 against Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun Championship.
Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. CT from the University Center in Macon, Ga. 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. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.