In one of their worst three-point shooting nights in years, the Belmont men’s basketball team fell 80-69 to crosstown rival Tennessee State at the Gentry Center Thursday night.
“There isn’t any question that the better team won the basketball game tonight,” said coach Rick Byrd about his team’s second conference loss. “Tennessee State was well prepared and performed extremely well. They made big plays when they needed to.”
Belmont only made five of 26 attempted threes as sharp shooter Ian Clark went 0-for-7 from long distance Thursday night. The team’s percentage of 3-pointers made was Belmont’s worst since 2010.
“If you rely on perimeter game, you’re going to have some games where you can beat anybody or some games when anybody can beat you,” Byrd said.
Early on, the Bruins’ shooting didn’t appear like a problem. Belmont started the game on a 10-4 run sparked with a JJ Mann 3-pointer.
With less than 12 minutes remaining, Belmont extended its lead, its largest of the night, to 18-8 behind a tip-in from Brandon Baker and layup from Ian Clark.
Minutes later, TSU surged on an 8-0 run to cut Belmont’s lead down to one point with six minutes remaining. Two field goals from Clark put Belmont back up by five.
After a layup from Noack gave the Bruins a 28-23 lead, the Tigers closed out the half with another 8-0 run in 50 seconds. A three from Robert Covington and a layup at the buzzer from Patrick Miller gave TSU a 31-28 halftime lead.
“We don’t like to sit back and let someone go for one. We scrambled around and didn’t have the poise to wait and get a shot off.” Byrd said. “We stood around like we thought the half was over.”
Belmont was held to only 37.5 percent shooting from the field in the first half while TSU shot an even 50 percent. The Bruins hit only two of 12 attempts from behind the arc and turned the ball over 12 times in the first half.
“If we hadn’t made all those turnovers, we should have had a double-digit lead probably at halftime,” Byrd said. “We were just awfully bad in the last eight to 10 minutes in the first half.”
The Tigers opened up the second half by extending their lead to 37-30. Layups from Johnson along with a steal and layup from Baker cut the TSU lead to 39-36, a deep three from Miller sparked a 9-4 run to put the Tigers up by eight.
But Belmont continued to push back. A 3-pointer from Mann, the team’s first since he made one minutes into the game, pulled the Bruins within three.
After the Tigers extended their lead 59-55, a tip-in from Blake Jenkins and pair of free throws from Johnson tied the game with five minutes left.
However, TSU quickly regained the lead with layups from MJ Rhett and Jordan Cyphers and wouldn’t give it up for the remainder of the game.
“We had too many mental mistakes tonight. They got what they wanted and we could have prevented it,” Byrd said. “If our team is going to make those kind of mistakes, we aren’t going to win the game.”
Five Belmont’s players scored in double digits, with Noack and Johnson leading the way with 16 points apiece. The Tigers were led by Covington, who scored 25 points.
Belmont plays its final road game of the regular season against Eastern Illinois next Wednesday.
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