After a slow second half start, the Belmont men’s basketball team held on to defeat the Tennessee State Tigers 78-66 at the Curb Event Center Saturday night.
In a battle between the crosstown rivals, the Bruins bounced back with a series of 3-pointers after their 20-point lead was narrowed to four midway through the second half.
Belmont scored 24 points off 16 turnovers on the night and relied on tough first half defense, steady play in the paint and clutch 3-pointers to put the game out of reach.
In front of the largest Curb Event Center crowd of the season, senior guard Ian Clark said the game between the two Nashville schools now holds much more importance. The teams started the night as the last two undefeated squads in Ohio Valley Conference play.
“People seem to be more excited to come and see Belmont and TSU play, and the game is much more important now, since we are both fighting for seeding in the conference tournament,” said Clark, who led the Bruins with 22 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Similar to their last conference game, the Bruins jumped out to a quick start that included an early 8-0 run. The Bruins controlled the paint in the first half, scoring 20 points compared to TSU’s 4 points in the paint.
By the eight-minute mark in the first half, Belmont had extended their 9-3 lead into a 19-2 run, and led 22-5.
Despite the deficit, the Tigers would eventually claw back into contention. Led by Jordan Cyphers, TSU ended the half on a 12-3 run of their own, shifting the game’s momentum to the Tigers at the half, cutting Belmont’s lead to 35-22.
With a 12-4 run to start the second half, the Tigers cut Belmont’s lead to five minutes after the second half start.
TSU’s sharp shooting and backcourt press continued to keep the Bruins in check for most of the second half. Five threes from Clark, Trevor Noack, Brandon Baker and Reece Chamberlain put the game firmly back into Belmont’s hands.
The Bruins went 8-from-14 from three in the second half to shut down the TSU comeback, even as the Tigers outscored the Bruins after halftime.
Belmont coach Rick Byrd said preparing for the new conference foe wasn’t a challenge.
“Many people ask me how much harder it is adjusting playing against new teams, when really it’s not,” he said. “We have hours upon hours of tape, and a large staff that does an excellent job preparing for them. We still have to prepare individually for each team we play, no matter the competition.”
The Bruins improved their record to 15-4 and stayed undefeated in conference play with the win. Their next game is this Thursday at 6:00 p.m. at Morehead State.