Belmont shot 55.6% from the field Saturday against Evansville.
…and they lost. It wasn’t a “fluke” loss, it wasn’t a come-from-behind type of loss. Belmont never led in the second half, and the game was never within one possession.
This isn’t a new issue this year. Belmont has yet to hold an opponent under 80 points, and while the Bruins up-tempo offense plays a part in that, the Bruins defense hasn’t exactly been exemplary this season.
For the season, Bruins’ opponents are now shooting 47.3% (117-247) from the field, and 38.5% (32-83) from three-point range. Belmont has yet to hold an opponent under 1.06 points per possession, and it’s gotten worse in their last two games, with WKU scoring 1.12 PPP and Evansville an even better 1.20.
The national average is 1.02. Belmont hasn’t held a single team under that number through four games.
Belmont’s offense, though, has been almost as good. Against the Golden Eagles and the Hilltoppers, they simply outscored their opponent. Saturday — they tried to do it again. And it didn’t work, despite the Bruins hitting 21-33 (63.6%) from the field in the second half, and perfect 13-13 night from Evan Bradds. Belmont’s offense simply isn’t going to have many nights better than that.
The numbers are concerning. But it’s not something the Bruins can’t overcome, and the numbers themselves might be a bit skewed by the competition. Belmont has played four good Division I teams so far. All four were top-150 teams in KenPom rankings a year ago, and all had better than average offenses. Evansville, especially, has one of the MVC’s best offensive threats in D.J. Balentine, who lit up the Bruins for 27 points in the win Saturday.
Most OVC teams have already played a non-Division I opponent by this point, which, in most cases, boosts a team’s defensive numbers significantly, especially given how few games have been played.
Belmont’s offense simply isn’t going to have many nights better.
And there’s this: The Bruins defense last year, a year in which they won the OVC Tournament Title, ranked 250th nationally in efficiency, and 9th in the OVC. Statistically — it’s fairly even to the Bruins numbers through four games this year. There are two areas they haven’t been as good: defensive rebounding, and keeping opponents off the free-throw line. Evansville had 38 free-throw attempts in that game — and even if you take out the 12 attempts in the final two minutes when Belmont was trying to extend the game, Evansville still would have shot 10 more free-throw attempts than the Bruins.
The interior play of the Bruins on the defensive end was a bit of a struggle in the Evansville loss. The Aces only scored 34 points in the paint, but Egidiju Mockevicius had a double-double by halftime, and finished with 26 points on 8-12 shooting. While Amanze Egekeze was great on the offensive end, the 6’8 forward only had a single rebound in the loss. Evansville had 10 offensive rebounds as a team, and converted those into 10 second chance points, and during a crucial second-half stretch, the Aces hit eight straight shots — five of which were either a layup, or in the paint.
The Bruins defense last year, a year in which they won the OVC Tournament Title, ranked 250th nationally in efficiency, and 9th in the OVC.
Belmont is still, clearly, a really good team, as they’ve given four teams tough games out of the gate. The thing holding Belmont back from 4-0, or even 3-1, is the defense, but the schedule actually gets a bit easier from here. If the defense struggles in the Legends Classic next week — it might be time to raise an alarm.
It’s just Belmont making early season game really fun to watch.
TL/DL: Belmont needs their defense to play better, but they’ve played four pretty good teams so far.