GAMES NOTES: The Belmont Bruins look to maintain their seat at the top of the Ohio Valley Conference standings when they visit the Eastern Kentucky Colonels for a critical league battle at McBrayer Arena.
J.J. Mann's 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining proved to be the game- winner for Belmont in its 64-63 win over Morehead State on Thursday. With the win the Bruins remain the only team in OVC play that has yet to be defeated with a 7-0 mark. Belmont is a stellar 16-4 overall on the campaign with a solid 6-3 mark on the road. The Bruins, who have won seven straight contests, will be back home to host Morehead State next.
Eastern Kentucky is just a game behind the Bruins in the conference standings (6-1) after a 76-67 win over Tennessee State on Thursday. The Colonels have won back-to-back games with the victory and are also sporting an impressive 16-4 overall record. It has been impossible to top Eastern Kentucky at McBrayer this season with the Colonels a perfect 10-0 on their home floor. The Colonels will play three of their next four games on the road however, beginning against Tennessee-Martin.
The Colonels will be seeking some revenge after an 83-76 loss to Belmont on the road earlier in the month. With the win, Belmont took a 2-1 lead in the all-time series.
After trailing by as any as 13 points in the second half against Morehead State, the Bruins rallied down the stretch to escape with the win. Mann was huge in the decisive moments as he nailed a pair of 3-pointers in the last two minutes to cap off the 11-2 run the Bruins ended the game on.
The Bruins have dominated on both ends of the floor during conference play, scoring 82.6 points per game, while giving up just 63.4. The Bruins' +19.1 scoring margin in league play is more than 12 points higher than the next highest. Leading the way is Ian Clark (19.2 ppg), who has really turned it on in league play, scoring 22.4 points per game. Kerron Johnson (13.1 ppg) has been a solid second option out of the backcourt. Trevor Noack (12.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) has been versatile in the frontcourt with his ability to spread the floor, as he shoots at an impressive 45.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Eastern Kentucky got out to a big lead at halftime against Tennessee State on Thursday and cruised to the win by hitting its free throws down the stretch. The Colonels shot at a 66.7 percent clip in the first half and led 39-24 at the break and then went 17-of-19 from the foul line to secure the victory.
Among teams in the OVC, Eastern Kentucky has had the second-best scoring margin in league play (+7.0) behind the Bruins. On the season as a whole the Colonels are scoring 72.1 points per game while shooting at an impressive 47.3 percent from the field. On the defensive end the Colonels are letting up just 64.4 points per game, on 44 percent shooting. The Colonels have been without Glenn Cosey (15.0 ppg) over the last five games which has put more pressure on leading scorer Mike DiNunno (15.9 ppg). The 5-foot-11 guard has largely carried that load with great success, scoring at least 20 points in four of the last five games. Corey Walden (11.9 ppg) has also upped his production, especially in the last two games when he has topped the 20-point plateau in each contest.
With how well DiNunno and Walden have been playing, Eastern Kentucky hasn't skipped a beat since losing Cosey. However, the Colonels will be at a disadvantage without one of their top scorers against Belmont which has dominated in conference play this season.