The battle for the early edge in the East division goes to Belmont on the road. Behind double figures from all five starters, the Bruins pull away late on their way to a 73-62 win over the Gamecocks. The win is the first Ohio Valley Conference win for the Bruins.
After a slow start, Belmont jumped out to a quick lead which they held for much of the first half. After an Ian Clark layup with 2:55 left in the first half put the Bruins up 11, the Gamecocks closed the half on an 11-2 run to go into the break down just two. The Gamecocks would take their first lead of the game after a Tarvin Gaines layup with 10:24 left in the game, but a 9-2 mini-run by Belmont put the Bruins up for good.
The Bruins were a perfect 17-17 from the free throw line on the night, using the charity stripe to help pull away from Jacksonville State late. J.J. Mann led the Bruins with 16 points on 6-9 shooting, and 11 rebounds, his first double-double in his career as a Bruin. Trevor Noack added 11 on perfect 4-4 shooting from the floor. Kerron Johnson struggled somewhat against the Jacksonville State defense, shooting just 3-10 from the field and coughing up seven of Belmont’s 16 turnovers. Johnson did have a game-high six assists. Belmont, a usually three-point friendly team, didn’t hit a single three in the first half, and took just 10 attempts from behind the arc on the night.
Jacksonville State was led by 18 points from Brian Williams. Darion Rackley and Nick Cook added 11, the only other Gamecocks in double figures. No Gamecock pulled down more than four rebounds on the night, as Jacksonville State was beat on the glass 31-22. The usually tough to score on Gamecocks defense allowed Belmont to shoot 52% from the floor, their worst defensive field goal percentage of the season.
The win by the Bruins on the road against a tough Jacksonville State squad will likely help set the tone for the East Division this season. Belmont is the preseason favorite to win the East, and there’s little that happened in non-conference play to change that thought in many minds. Jacksonville State looked to be a potential early stumbling block for the Bruins, coming off a better than expected record in non-conference play themselves, but trailed throughout this one.
More indicitave than the final score is how the Bruins won. They absolutely tore through the statistically best defense in the OVC, and were able to win without the three, something that appeared to be somewhat of a crutch for the Bruins this year.
As for Jacksonville State, despite a 2-1 start in conference play it’s worth noting that the Gamecocks have looked vulnerable in their past two outings. Their win over UT Martin was anything but dominant, and tonight was a major step back for their defense, which is what makes this team such a threat.
Both teams are back in action on Saturday. Jacksonville State hosts Tennessee State (8-7, 2-0) while Belmont travels just up the road to face Tennessee Tech (6-8, 0-2)