The Belmont Bruins improved their season record to 1-1 with a 90-69 win over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Saturday.
Here are seven takeaways from the game.
1. Belmont’s three ball returns
So much for poor shooting from beyond the arc. Although the Bruins made only 9-of-41 three-point attempts against Vanderbilt last Tuesday, the story was entirely different versus Western Kentucky.
Seven different Belmont players made a three-pointer, the team shot 16-of-34 from beyond the arc, and 48 of Belmont’s 90 total points came from threes.
Senior forward Nick Smith was the sharpest shooter from distance. All 18 of his points came from behind the arc as he came off the bench and shot 6-of-8 from the field for the Bruins. The next best shooter was junior point guard Austin Luke who converted 4 of his 6 three-point attempts.
Of course, shooting 58% from the field as a whole certainly helped Belmont push out its lead.
2. Even with a half-filled arena, The Curb gets loud
While I don’t have exact attendance numbers, an eye-check suggested that The Curb was about half-filled Saturday night.
Because of its small size and involved fan base, the stadium nonetheless echoed with cheers at different points during the game, especially at the end of the first half when Belmont had consecutive dunks by sophomore guard Dylan Windler and junior forward Amanze Egekeze, and then a break-through layup by senior forward Evan Bradds to bring the score to 42-39.
However, perhaps the best feature of the stadium was Belmont’s student band section, which waived red and white umbrellas or sang carton theme songs when Western Kentucky attempted free throws.
3. Austin Luke came out shooting in the first half
Belmont started the game slowly, such that seven minutes into the first half, the team faced an 11-point deficit to Western Kentucky. In fact, with 12:14 remaining, the score was 21-10.
But Luke was perhaps the biggest reason that deficit got no worse. In the first 10 minutes of play, Luke made three shots from beyond the arc, had a steal, assisted two of Evan Bradds’ layups, and made a layup of his own.
In other words, Luke made or assisted 15 of Belmont’s first 20 points.
4. Justin Johnson puts on a pregame and game-time show worth watching
Western Kentucky’s 6’7’’, 240-pound forward Justin Johnson started his pregame routine with monster dunks and soon proceeded to attempt three-pointers five or six feet from beyond the line.
The eye-catching warm up turned into an impressive game-time performance. Johnson led the Hilltoppers in most statistical categories as he finished with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds, two assists and a block.
Despite Johnson’s performance Bruins’ head coach Rick Byrd was very pleased that his team limited the forward to just one offensive rebound.
“Johnson killed us last year,” said Byrd. “Luckfully for us, he got in foul trouble or he would have had 23 offensive rebounds. That was a big point to us [tonight].”
5. Byrd says team depth contributed to win
In a battle of the benches, Belmont came out on top.
The Bruins’ bench not only ousted the Hilltoppers’ bench in minutes played (49 minutes vs. 42 minutes), but also in field goal percentage (67 percent vs. 56 percent) and in points scored (31 points vs. 15 points).
“I felt like our depth was a big plus, a really big plus,” Byrd said in the post-game press conference.
“[Western Kentucky] has five or six really good basketball players that are ready to play, and then they have inexperience after that, [so] they’re trying to play those guys a whole lot of minutes because that’s their best chance to win, which is tough… I thought [our bench] did a nice job of keeping the tempo of the game up.”
6. Rick Stansbury and WKU felt a rush
Although WKU trailed by just three points at halftime (42-39), that deficit quickly grew at the start of the second half as the Bruins hit a series of three-pointers and layups that pushed the score to 66-52.
At that point, Hilltoppers’ head coach Rick Stansbury noted that the hot streak increased his team’s tempo, which was detrimental.
“The first 20 minutes, we were really efficient offensively,” said Stansbury. “And that’s why the game gave us a chance at halftime, only down three … But the second half, when [Belmont] made some shots, I thought we panicked … we started trying to get it back, we started trying to get it back too quickly. And that’s the last thing you can do on the road … We can’t let environments and teams speed you up.”
7. Evan Bradds can still do it all
Evan Bradds was unsurprisingly Saturday night’s top performer. The reigning OVC Player of the Year and the preseason pick to earn that honor again this season lived up to expectations as he finished the night with the most rebounds (14) and points (27) between both teams.
This stat-line is all the more impressive considering that a good number of Bradds’ points came when he was guarded by Justin Johnson.
It is safe to assume that Bradds will continue to impress through 2016, and the Bruins will definitely need him at the top of his game when the travel to take on the Florida Gators on Monday.