Tennessee-Martin (4-13) at Belmont (12-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 12, 5 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Curb Events Center (5,000) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: UTM 4-4, Belmont 5-0. Away Record: UTM 0-9, Belmont 5-3. Neutral Record: UTM 0-0, Belmont 2-1. Conference Record: UTM 1-4, Belmont 3-0. Series Record: Tennessee-Martin leads, 20-12.
GAME NOTES: For the first time in their Division I era, the Belmont Bruins will take on the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks as the two meet in an Ohio Valley Conference tilt at the Curb Events Center.
This will be the first meeting between these Volunteer State rivals since the 1987-88 season, when Rick Byrd was just in his second season at the helm of Belmont's program. Although UTM owns a 20-12 all-time series lead, The majority of the meetings between these two squads took place in the 1960's when both teams were members of the Volunteer State Athletic Conference. The Bruins have risen to new heights during Byrd's tenure.
Belmont and Kansas are the only two schools in the Division I ranks to collect 12 or more conference victories each year over the past decade. Although the Bruins were not a member of the OVC during that time, their initial performance in the league has indicated they will be contenders for the crown. Byrd watched his squad complete a 107-72 rout of SE Missouri State on Thursday to rise its standings to 12-4 overall, 5-0 at home, and 3-0 in league games. Belmont was expected to be Murray State's top competitor for the league title prior to the season and it may has passed the Racers as favorites by owning a +13.6 scoring margin, which is the best in the conference by more than five points.
UTM snapped a seven-game losing streak with a thrilling 76-74 overtime victory over Austin Peay last Saturday, but the triumph was short lived as it dropped an 80-48 decision at Tennessee State on Thursday. Coach Jason James has his work cut out for him, as the Skyhawks are 4-14 overall due to their insufficient abilities on the defensive end of the floor. They are second to last in the OVC in scoring defense with an allowed average of 74.7 points per contest, which is greater than their own scoring output of 66.0 ppg.
Trevor Noack and Ian Clark each dropped in 30 points for the Bruins in their easy 35-point triumph over SEMO this week. Kerron Johnson added 13 points and JJ Mann finished with 11 points to help Belmont tally 107 points, which established a Curb Event Center record. Belmont had a decided advantage in the paint, outscoring SEMO 46-30. The Bruins also capitalized on Redhawks mistakes, forcing a season-high 20 turnovers and converting them into 25 points. If Mann continues to provide a fifth scoring option, the Bruins will be nearly impossible to defend as its other four starters are all scoring in at least 9.5 ppg apiece, with Clark at the head of the class at 17.9 ppg. Johnson is the team's second leading scorer (13.3 ppg) and Noack is a serviceable 6-7 forward with 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per outing.
Although the Skyhawks are rarely putting checks in the win column, Myles Taylor has been on a terror lately. The reigning OVC Freshman of the Year set a new career-high with 25 points as TSU just a few days after registering a double-double of 19 points and 13 boards to lead the Skyhawks to a decision over the Governors. Along with the majority of his teammates, Mike Liabo had a poor showing versus TSU as he finished with just three points and two assists in 19 minutes, which lowered his season marks to 12.8 points and 2.1 assists a game. Aside from Taylor going 11-of-23 from the floor versus the Tigers, UTM converted just 9-of-48 of its field goal tries including a 1-of-12 clip from distance.
UTM's recent no show happened at a poor time as it could have used the extra momentum entering a contest as an overwhelming underdog. Belmont's array of talented scorers will provide too many obstacles for the visiting Skyhawks to keep up.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Belmont 84, Tennessee-Martin 60
01/12 10:50:58 ET