MACON, Ga. - - Greg Gumbel...get ready to say 'Belmont' on Selection Sunday! In one of the most complete performances in program history, Belmont men's basketball defeated North Florida, 87-46, Saturday night for the 2011 Atlantic Sun Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
In search of a fourth Atlantic Sun Tournament title in the past six years, Belmont delivered an awe-inspiring performance, reminiscent of overwhelming victories in the 2007 and 2008 conference championship game.
Junior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) got the Bruins off and running with determined play, scoring four interior baskets in the first 3:10 of the game. When senior Jordan Campbell (Indianapolis, Ind.) added a wing three-pointer, the Bruins stormed out to a 13-2 lead and forced an early Osprey timeout.
After a Brad Haugabrook driving layin, sophomore Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) buried a three-pointer of his own to increase the margin to 16-4.
But the real story was stifling Bruin defense and remarkable offensive rebounding. Belmont held North Florida to two baskets the first 8:13 of the contest, while also crashing the boards for second and third shot opportunities.
Six more interior points from Hedgepeth and a three-pointer from sophomore Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) highlighted a 12-2 Bruin run to stretch the lead to 39-19 right before halftime.
Haugabrook played beat the buzzer to get North Florida within 39-21 at halftime.
Belmont shot 47 percent (17-for-36) in the opening 20 minutes - including 4-for-11 from three-point distance. The Bruins claimed 14 offensive rebounds in the first half while forcing 10 Osprey turnovers.
Hedgepeth scored 17 points in the first half.
The Bruins simply did not let up in the second half, with all 12 players making enormous contributions, especially defensively and on the glass.
Belmont's deep rotation continued to pressure North Florida ball handlers, forcing turnovers and heavily contested shots throughout.
Consecutive three-pointers from sophomore Brandon Baker (Milford, Ohio) and a baseline three-pointer from sophomore Adam Barnes (Clarksville, Tenn.) brought the Bruin bench and support section to its feet.
Belmont was able to celebrate its championship game performance and season in totality in the final minutes.
All told, Belmont shot 51 percent (36-for-71) from the field - including 9-for-20 from three-point distance. Belmont claimed an Atlantic Sun Tournament record 23 offensive rebounds, leading to an astounding 34 more field goal attempts than North Florida.
The Bruins forced 22 Osprey turnovers and outscored North Florida, 48-20, in the paint.
Hedgepeth paced three Bruins in double figures with a career-high tying 23 points and nine rebounds. Saunders shook off early foul trouble to record 15 points, while Clark added 10.
Haugabrook led North Florida (15-19) with 10 points.
This was the first conference title game with a 30+ point margin since the 2008 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament final.
Belmont (30-4) becomes the first team in the nation to 30 victories in NCAA Division-I basketball. Belmont also takes the national lead in road/neutral court victories with 18.
Belmont's 30th victory sets an Atlantic Sun Conference record for a single season as the Bruins become just the 14th school from a non-BCS conference to get to 30 victories since 1996-97.
Belmont will represent the Atlantic Sun Conference in the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship - the fourth NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. The Bruins will learn their seeding in the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, Mar. 13 at 5pm CT on CBS.