After weeks of double-digit wins in conference play, the Belmont men’s basketball team had to hold off a second-half rally to beat the Eastern Kentucky Colonels Thursday night at the Curb Event Center.
Even with the seven-point margin behind the 83-76 win, coach Rick Byrd was more than happy to take a win versus a team that hadn’t lost a conference game coming into the night.
“It’s a big win. There’s a team coming in here undefeated and has a leg up on all of us because they’ve gone to Murray State and won,” Byrd said. “That’s a really good basketball team, so it was a good win even if it didn’t come as easy as some of the others have.”
It took a late 12-0 run to give the Bruins the win over the Colonels, even as Belmont took a 17-point first half lead and then gave it up with minutes to go in the game.
“We knew they were going to be a tough team coming in since they beat Murray State,” Ian Clark, who lead all scorers with 22 points, said. “But we tried to protect our home court and we did that today.”
Clark got things going early for the Bruins with a three to launch an 11-4 run in the opening minutes of the game. With eight minutes left in the half, Belmont extended their lead 20-8 with threes from Clark and senior Brandon Baker.
Three minutes later, back-to-back layups by Blake Jenkins put Belmont up by 17 points, their biggest lead of the night.
But that deficit was not one Eastern Kentucky would keep for long. The Colonels went on a 12-2 run to close out the first half and then continued their run with consistent 3-point shooting to take a 41-39 lead early in the second half.
In hindsight, Jenkins said a team like Eastern Kentucky was good enough to make a comeback.
“We’re not going to blow out everyone, we’re going to get everyone’s best shot. EKU gave us their best shot,” Jenkins said. “They were tough.”
The two teams continued to battle back and forth throughout the second half that saw seven more lead changes. After the Colonels took a 69-65 lead with about six and a half minutes left, Belmont went on a 12-0 run sparked by a Reece Chamberlain basket to take a 77-69 advantage. With perfect free throw shooting for the rest of the game, the Bruins held on for the win.
Overall, Belmont shot 52 percent from the field and 40 percent from three point distance, while holding Eastern Kentucky to 48 percent and 12 of 36 three pointers.
“Even though they ended up getting 76 points, I’m not disappointed at our defensive effort,” Byrd said. “We took them out of what they really wanted to do, kind of what they did to us.”
Belmont returns to action this Saturday as they host cross-town rival Tennessee State at 7pm at the Curb Event Center. The Bruins and the Tigers are the only two undefeated teams remaining in Ohio Valley Conference play.