NASHVILLE — Belmont put on another basketball clinic at East Tennessee State’s expense Saturday night.
The Bruins broke open a close game early with a rain of 3-pointers and kept pouring it on in an 80-58 romp at the Curb Event Center.
The victory was the eighth in a row for the Bruins (21-7, 13-2), who took over first place in the Atlantic Sun Conference thanks to Jacksonville’s upset of Mercer. The streak started with a 12-point win at ETSU on Jan. 23.
“Everything has gone pretty well since our game up there,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd. “Sometimes you luck into things as a coach, more than you want to admit. We put Blake Jenkins in the starting lineup to guard (Adam) Sollazzo that night, and he’s been in there ever since. He’s really made a big difference in our team.”
Jenkins, a 6-7 sophomore, had 12 points and 12 rebounds in the rematch, but he was just one of many weapons at Byrd’s disposal.
Belmont had five guys score in double figure; ETSU had two.
For the Bucs (13-13, 7-8), it was a familiar scene that played out in front of a spirited crowd of 3,451. The Bruins, with their outstanding depth, ball movement, perimeter shooting and defense, have now beaten them six in a row and 14 of 17 since they joined the A-Sun.
This was another one that was over early. Belmont led 37-21 at the half.
“The first 10 minutes was good. The game plan was good,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “The last 10 minutes (of the first half) we did not play well at either end. Before you can blink, we’re down 16 and in real trouble.”
The game had been tied at 15-all with 11 minutes gone. Then the 3-balls started going down for Drew Hanlen.
The senior point guard made three in a 12-0 run, and suddenly it was 27-15. Hanlen finished with 15 points, all on 3-pointers, and six assists.
As a team, the Bruins were 11 of 28 from behind the arc. They were also able to get the ball inside for easy scores, and they went 23 of 29 at the foul line.
“They’re just a typical Belmont team,” said Sheldon Cooley, who led the Bucs with 13 points and three steals. “They have the two big guys inside surrounded by shooters. If you lose your concentration on defense, they’ll drill you.”
Ian Clark, the all-conference guard, led the Bruins with 18 points. Kerron Johnson matched Hanlen with 15, while Scott Saunders had 12.
Isiah Brown scored 12 for the Bucs, but it was a tough night for all three of the team’s seniors. Brown, Sollazzo and Tommy Hubbard managed just five points between them in the first half.
“When you have four or five empty possessions, you’re in trouble against Belmont because they’re going to score on two or three of theirs at least,” said Bartow. “A four-point game becomes a 10-point game, and a 10-point game becomes a 16-point game. They’re good.”
The Bucs shot 36 percent from the field. They turned the ball over just nine times and got off 63 shots — 14 more than the Bruins. They just didn’t make many.
Belmont shot 46 percent and had 20 assists on its 23 field goals.