|Points:||Balentine (19.9)||Bradshaw (21.3)|
|Rebounds:||Mockevicius (9.7)||Bradds (6.6)|
|Assists:||Brzoja, Balentine (3.3)||Chamberlain (5.8)|
|Steals:||Gibson (1.3)||Chamberlain (2.5)|
Mid-major programs don’t often have a chance to earn a top-100 RPI win outside of “money” games. Tonight is one of those rare nights where they can.
Even better: the Bruins can do it on their home floor.
Belmont (71st in RPI) hosts Evansville (81st in RPI) in a matchup of two of the stronger offenses in the nation. The Aces, led by D.J. Balentine, bring the second best shooting offense in the nation against a Bruins with the OVC’s leading scorer in Craig Bradshaw.
In a way, these teams are very similar. Both have game-changing guards that look to penetrate on offense, solid defenses, and are capable of huge swings in momentum.
While everyone knows what Balentine and Bradshaw are capable of, the game will likely come down not to their play, but to their supporting casts. Evan Bradds has been terrific this year inside for the Bruins, giving Belmont a post presence they’ve sorely missed in the recent past, but he’ll be matched up against a larger Egidijus Mockevicius, who is shooting 71.7% from the field, netting 13 points a game and averaging just under 10 rebounds a game for the Aces. Evansville will also bring a double-digit scorer, Mislav Brzoja, off the bench, who you don’t want to let get to the free-throw line. (He’s 22-23 from the charity stripe on the year.)
Taylor Barnette could struggle to get open looks from three: the Virginia transfer is hitting 46% from three-point range this year, but Evansville is only allowing opponents to shoot 30% from deep. Despite their size advantage inside, the Aces have struggled, relatively speaking, defending in the paint, which means Belmont’ guards will look to drive early and often against the Evansville defense. Inside, Bradds has been solid all year, but 6’8 Nick Smith is coming off a pair of 15-point performances — he could be setup for another solid night.
Non-conference games matter for seeding, and if Belmont wants to rise above the 14, or maybe even 13-seed line, this is a win they need, not as much for now, but for March, because Evansville could very well be dancing out of the Missouri Valley.