In a literal sense, the OVC championship always goes through Nashville, the site of the OVC tournament every March. But it’s rare in the figurative since.
That may end this season.
Behind a pair of thirty point scorers, Belmont shoots 62% from the field, dominating West Division contender Southeast Missouri in a 107-72 win at the Curb Events Center. The game was virtually never in doubt, as the Bruins never trailed, and used an early 12-2 run to get separation from the Redhawks within the first ten minutes of the game.
Ian Clark shot 12-14 from the field, with Trevor Noack went 0-16, both finishing with 30 points on the night. J.J. Mann added 11 behind 3-5 shooting from behind the arc, and Kerron Johnson scored 13 on efficient 4-7 shooting. The Bruins forced 20 turnovers, which they turned into 25 points, and outscored the Redhawks in the paint by 16. The only black mark on the night: free throw shooting. Belmont shot just 16-27 from the line. (59.3%)
Offensively, the Redhawks didn’t have a terrible night, shooting 44% from the field. Tyler Stone led the Redhawks with 18 points, while A.J. Jones added 13, but on just 5-14 shooting from the field. Forward Nino Johnson played limited minutes for SEMO after getting three fouls in just six minutes of play in the first half. Fouls were an issue for SEMO, as Belmont nearly doubled up the Redhawks in free-throw attempts.
In the early part of conference play, we’re usually waiting patiently for a team to emerge. Even with three undefeated teams remaining, I think it’s safe to say that Belmont has separated themselves from the pack. They have been simply dominant in their three conference wins, with tonight’s win possibly the most impressive of the bunch. This team just has so many offensive weapons, and I’m not sure if there’s a defense in the OVC that can contain them all. The fact they put up 107 points is impressive enough, but it’s the efficiency with which they did so that’s just so scary.
At this point in time, Southeast Missouri doesn’t look like a title contender. It’s early, and there’s still a lot of games to be played, but the loss to Murray looks worse after the Racers loss last night at home, and SEMO was never in the game with Belmont tonight. The inconsistent play continues: starter Lucas Nutt played just 17 minutes tonight, finishing with two assists, and zero shots from the field. Corey Wilford, quite possibly the most consistent player in the Redhawks backcourt struggled tonight, and while Jones did score 13 points, he took far too many shots to do so. The frontcourt play, shaky of late, again struggled thanks in part to Johnson’s foul trouble.
Belmont hosts UT Martin (4-12, 1-4) on Saturday, in a game I fear could get very much out of hand if the Bruins are focused. Southeast Missouri faces another challenge as they travel to Tennessee State. (10-7, 4-0)