Belmont (15-4) at Morehead State (10-10)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 24, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Ellis Johnson Arena (6,500) -- Morehead, Kentucky. Television: None. Home Record: Belmont 8-0, MSU 7-2. Away Record: Belmont 5-3, MSU 2-8. Neutral Record: Belmont 2-1, MSU 1-0. Conference Record: Belmont 6-0, MSU 4-2. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Belmont Bruins will try to keep their current winning streak in tact, as they travel to Ellis Johnson Arena for an Ohio Valley Conference bout with the Morehead State Eagles.
Belmont's inaugural season as a member of the OVC could not have started any better, as it has won each of its first six conference games since the start of the new year, culminating in a 78-66 home victory over Tennessee State last Saturday. In addition to the current six-game run, the Bruins have won eight of their last nine to climb to 15-4 overall.
While its hot streak isn't nearly as impressive as Belmont's, Morehead State has been played well of late, winning back-to-back games at Southeast Missouri State (75-59) and most recently at Tennessee-Martin last Saturday (88-74). The Eagles' current run has brought them to 10-10 overall and 4-2 in the OVC, and they now return home where they are 7-2 this season.
This bout marks the inaugural meeting between these newly-formed OVC rivals.
Belmont began its game against TSU last weekend with a 22-3 run, and it never looked back on its way to a 12-point victory. Ian Clark led the way with 22 points, and he also contributed six assists, six rebounds and four steals. Kerron Johnson added 17 points and five helpers, while Trevor Noack scored 16 points, albeit on just 7-of-18 shooting from the field. It's no surprise the Bruins are in first place when analyzing their numbers, as they rank first in the OVC in scoring offense (77.3 ppg) and second in scoring defense (62.9 ppg), resulting in a +14.4 scoring margin that's nearly twice that of its closest rival. Clark is an extremely efficient guard, knocking down 56.7 percent of his total shots, including an astounding 49.3 percent of his 66 3- point tries on his way to the third-highest scoring average in the league (19.1 ppg). Johnson nets 13.3 ppg and is a solid floor general as evidenced by his 4.9 apg. Noack chips in with 12.8 ppg and a team-best 5.8 rpg, and Blake Jenkins is also serviceable on the inside with 9.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 1.4 bpg.
Morehead State got into bigger foul trouble than it would have liked in its latest matchup against UTM, sending the Skyhawks to the foul line 37 times, but it didn't matter much as the Eagles drained 54.1 percent of their field goal attempts, including 9-of-19 from 3-point range, in posting the 14-point triumph. The bench scored 46 of the team's 88 points, and the reserve effort was led by 16 points from Kahlil Owens and 11 from Milton Chavis. Devon Atkinson tallied a true double-double with 12 points and 12 assists, while Bakari Turner rounded out the balanced effort with 14 points. Morehead State isn't used to putting together performances that strong, but its 71.6 ppg still ranks in the upper-half of the OVC. Although Chavis (11.8 ppg) is the only player to net double-digits on a nightly basis, and eight others tally at least 5.1 ppg in a deep rotation. Atkinson is usually light on the scoreboard (7.4 ppg), but he has dished out 110 assists (5.5 pg) compared to just 57 turnovers.
With the home court advantage, Morehead State has a definite shot at an upset here, especially considering its strong play of late. But in the end, Belmont's scoring attack will be too much for the Eagles to handle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Belmont 78, Morehead State 70
01/24 10:34:26 ET