For the second time in conference play, Eastern Kentucky allowed an opponent to shoot better than 65% from the field.
They won the first time. Not the second.
Belmont shoots 67% from the floor, 73% from 3-point range, and survive a late run from Eastern Kentucky to remain undefeated in the OVC. It was the highest field goal percentage for the Bruins in at least eight years, and the second time in conference play that the Bruins shot better the 60%.
Despite the hot shooting night, the Bruins trailed by three midway through the first half, before a 13-0 run in about four minutes put Belmont ahead by double-digits. The lead would be 12 with just over five minutes to play, but eight unanswered brought the Colonels within four with 2:54 left in the game. Belmont would respond with six straight, putting the game out of reach.
Ian Clark led the Bruins scoring attack with 21 points, but all but four came in the second half. Clark, J.J. Mann, and Kerron Johnson combined to hit 9 of 10 three pointers, as all three finished the night well over 50% from the field. The Bruins forced 17 turnovers from a usually stingy Eastern Kentucky squad, and had 20 assists on 31 made shots.
Corey Walden continues his recent surge, scoring a game high 24 points, including an impressive 10-12 night from the free-throw line. Mike DiNunno added 15 on just 5-13 shooting, and both guards coughed up the ball five times each. The Colonels shot 50% from the floor, but couldn’t get enough stops to make an effective run.
After the game, Eastern Kentucky coach Jeff Neubauer had some interesting words about Belmont, and the rest of the league. “It’s on us,” Neubauer said. “We’re the only team that’s going to be able to beat them in the OVC Tournament.”
“The other teams in the OVC do not matchup well with them,” Neubauer added. “We have to be the team that beats them.”
Belmont head coach Rick Byrd‘s response? “I hope he’s right. I’ve coached too long to get cocky.”
I agree and disagree with Neubauer. His team is one of, if not the only team that can compete with Belmont in a shootout, but the Colonels haven’t shown in either of their matchups that they can stop the Bruins. Also, Morehead State gave them a much better game on Thursday than the Colonels did today. His team appears to be the best positioned to topple the Bruins. But the only? That might be overstating things.
Eastern Kentucky hits the road this week, traveling to UT Martin (5-16, 2-7) and Southeast Missouri. (11-12, 3-6) The Bruins return home, hosting a Morehead State (11-11, 5-3) team one point from an upset on Thursday, and a Tennessee Tech (8-12, 2-6) team that was anything but close to the upset a few weeks ago.