NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Behind balanced scoring and strong team defense, Belmont University men's basketball defeated SIU Edwardsville, 73-43, Wednesday night.
Belmont looked to continue the momentum from last Saturday's impressive 81-62 victory Ohio in the Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters.
The Bruins came out focus and engaged, holding SIUE scoreless the opening 3:02 of the game in building a 7-0 lead. All five Bruin starters scored in the first five minutes.
After Kris Davis got the visiting Cougars within 16-9, Belmont went on a 12-0 run over the next four minutes, capped by a short jumper from senior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.), making the score 28-9 with 10:34 left in the first half. Belmont made 13 of its first 16 shots.
Though the Bruins continued to get high percentage shots as the first half wound down, shots started to rim off. That, coupled with foul trouble for senior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.), stifled Belmont's rhythm. Meanwhile, Davis helped SIUE close within 39-28 by halftime.
Belmont shot 57 percent (16-for-28) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 6-for-15 from three-point distance. The Bruins were plus-seven on the boards.
A Davis layin and a three-pointer from Tim Johnson got SIUE back within 41-33 with 18:58 left, before the Bruins broke free with determined play on both ends.
In fact, over the next 17 minutes, Belmont would limit SIUE to one field goal while forcing 11 turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Bruins rode the aggressive drives of Johnson and the interior scoring of junior Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) to extend the lead.
A short jumper from freshman Jeff Laidig (Mishawaka, Ind.) made the score 70-37 with 2:19 left.
All told, Belmont shot 51 percent (27-for-53) from the field - including 8-for-22 from three-point distance. Belmont outrebounded SIUE, 39-24, while forcing 17 turnovers.
Jenkins led Belmont with 17 points and 11 rebounds, his third career double-double. Clark had 14, senior Trevor Noack (Keller, Texas) added 13 points while junior J.J. Mann had 11.
Davis led SIUE (9-17, 5-10 OVC) with 19 points.
With the victory, Belmont secures its fourth consecutive regular season conference championship (Atlantic Sun '10, '11, '12; OVC '13), and sixth regular season conference championship in the last eight years.
Belmont also secures the No. 1 seed in the upcoming OVC Tournament.
Belmont (23-6, 13-2 OVC) returns to action Saturday, Mar. 2 against Jacksonville State. Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU and the Bruin Sports Network. In-game updates will be provided via Twitter @BelmontMBB.
NOTES: Belmont has won 19 consecutive home games - the third-longest active home court winning streak in nation (South Dakota State, Marquette), and won 40 of its last 41 home games ... Belmont's five seniors have won 99 games ... Nine Bruins scored, including a late three-pointer from Holden Mobley.