NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Behind 19 points and seven assists from senior Austin Luke (Rowlett, Texas), Belmont University men's basketball defeated Eastern Kentucky, 84-73, Thursday night.
Belmont, which has won 16 of its last 18 games, shot 59 percent from the field – including 14-for-31 from 3-point distance.
While at first glance the offensive numbers may resemble the Bruins' surgical offensive showing two weeks earlier at the Colonels, this evening proved far tougher sledding.
In fact, as Eastern Kentucky opened purposeful and resolute, Belmont head coach Rick Byrd used two timeouts in the first 4:21 of the game.
After a baseline 3-pointer from freshman Nick Hopkins (Fayetteville, Tenn.) and slam from senior Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) got the Bruins within 11-10, Eastern Kentucky got five points from JacQuess Hobbs to take an 18-10 lead eight minutes in.
But Egekeze continued his impressive play, as eight points around a 3-pointer from junior Mack Mercer (Plymouth, Ind.) tied the score at 21.
While Belmont was bracing for the perimeter game of talented Eastern Kentucky forward Nick Mayo, the outside shooting of his frontcourt mate Zach Charles was not something the Colonels featured.
However, after making only four career 3-pointers entering play, Charles made two straight 3-pointers midway through the first half to extend Eastern Kentucky momentum.
From there, Belmont rose up defensively, holding the Colonels without a field goal for six and a half minutes.
A 3-pointer from junior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.) made the score 37-25 with 4:14 left in the first half.
A second alley oop slam from Luke to sophomore Seth Adelsperger (Peru, Ind.) gave Belmont a 41-29 halftime lead.
Belmont shot 57 percent (16-for-28) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 9-for-19 from 3-point distance.
Egekeze led Belmont with 13 first half points.
A driving layin from junior Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.) pushed the margin to 14, before another Charles 3-pointer sparked an Eastern Kentucky run.
In all, Eastern Kentucky made its first six shots of the second half, closing within 47-44 with 16:06 left on a JacQuess Hobbs basket.
But baskets from Luke, McClain and Windler pushed the lead back to 10.
Each time Belmont appeared poised to break free, Mayo would make an impressive scoring move to keep the Colonels within striking distance.
An Egekeze layin would push the lead to 10, 68-58, with 7:23 remaining, before Luke helped seal the deal.
Luke would sink three consecutive 3-pointers down the stretch, the last of which made the score 77-64 with 3:49 left.
Belmont outrebounded Eastern Kentucky, 35-22, and forced 10 Colonel turnovers.
Luke led four Bruins in double figures with 19 points. Egekeze added his second consecutive double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. McClain had 15, while Windler added 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Mayo led Eastern Kentucky (9-19, 3-12 OVC) with 21 points.
Belmont (21-7, 13-2 OVC) returns to game action Saturday, Feb. 17 vs. Morehead State. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network. The live play-by-play of the Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network. In-game updates will be available via Twitter @BelmontMBB.
NOTES: Belmont improves to 11-5 vs. Eastern Kentucky ... Senior Burton Sampson had his second consecutive impactful game, adding six points off the bench ... Belmont outscored Eastern Kentucky, 18-0, in points off the bench.