Bruins Hit 10 Conference Wins
Monday night SIUE (5-19, 0-10) entered the Curb Events Center seeking their first D1 win since Thanksgiving weekend. They did not get it.
Belmont’s (16-4, 10-0) Nick Smith lulled SIUE to sleep, winning 92-69.
The Stone-Faced Slinger slipped to the corner as Dylan Windler wrangled an offensive rebound. The second chance included a second’s defensive lapse. With Smith on the floor that second is costly. Left alone, or rather deservedly alone after sneaking towards his sweet spot, Smith buried his first triple of the night.
“I don’t know how (teams don’t find him),” said Kevin McClain. “He gets in the gym everyday and works on the same things he does in the game…popping out and shoots those 3’s.”
Smith scored 22 points on 8-12 shooting.
“Honestly I have been coming off the bench my whole career,” said Smith. “And I have gotten to the point where I love doing that. I know every shot I take all my teammates believe in me.”
Coming off a moderate left calf bruise Saturday Evan Bradds scored 24 points, drawing an inordinate amount of fouls along the way.
Like Bradds, Smith worked over the visiting Cougars in the paint.
“Obviously they switched a lot screens to keep the shot and when that happens we kind of try to go down in the paint and take advantage,” said Smith.
Late in the first half, in a game lacking identity or flow, HC Jon Harris suffered with Justin Benton and Brandon Jackson on the floor. The two freshmen dealt the basketball back and forth. Facing a dwindling shot clock, Benton astutely cut to the lane. When faced with a readied Amanze Egekeze, Benton sent a bounce pass to the foot of Jackson. Pick your poison. It was either a turnover or a shot clock violation.
While SIUE was trying to create with rookies, Belmont was leaning on veterans. Fourth-year players Bradds, Smith, Burton Sampson, and senior Taylor Barnette made the remainder of the first half a breeze.
Austin Luke struggled, reverting to his sophomore season temporarily. Luke’s season has been lauded by numerous OVC coaches. Just days before Tennessee State Head Coach Dana Ford labeled him a “Top 5 OVC player.”
Monday’s hiccup should not be an indication of an oncoming sore throat. In 16 minutes of action, Austin Luke coughed up five turnovers, assisted on six passes, and fouled four times. Luke will probably have it cleared up by Thursday’s Murray State contest.
Sophomore Dylan Windler flew around the floor. Though he didn’t look to score often, Windler courageously rebounded and hunted down loose balls. He finished with two points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and two turnovers.
While the opening half was sadly devoid of flow or crispness, Windler’s wild energy kept Belmont slightly ahead early. The Bruins pulled ahead 43-29 heading into the locker room.
Belmont Head Coach Rick Byrd shared a glimpse of next year’s lineup.
McClain, Seth Adelsperger (2 pts, 1 reb), Amanze Egekeze (12 pts, 5 rebs), Windler, and Burton Sampson played together midway through the second frame. While McClain is not your traditional pass-first point guard he infuses the Bruins with a slashing identity they typically lack. Sophomores Windler and Adelsperger figure to take big leaps in the off-season.
McClain had a strong game. Despite fouling out the sophomore scored 10 points and contributed two assists.
“I have times where I have been playing too fast, same as freshman year,” said Kevin McClain. “It is a part of learning. But I have games where I have been poised and playing slow like a sophomore, as I should. That is how I am going to try to play out from now on.”
With McClain and Austin Luke splitting guard duties next season the multi-pronged attack will continue.
“I definitely want to be starting with him one day,” said McClain.
Without Bradds both will be tasked with creating more.
Monday the greatest creative influences of the game came from a bizarrely imaginative officiating crew. The three striped authorities whistled early and often. Evan Bradds, admittedly a footwork wizard was consistently being nudged outside the low block early in the possessions. The bumps looked to be modest if not forgettable. Starting forward Jalen Henry suffered several egregious calls early in the second half.
The sturdy forward actually fouled out setting his own position down low. The irony of him holding his position but attracting a whistle must have been especially revolting.
Leading SIUE scorer Burak Eslik, Head Coach Jon Harris, and Head Coach Rick Byrd each collected technical fouls.
Tre Harris did not attend. His absence remains a mystery.
Belmont enters their longest road trip of the season (Murray State, Jacksonville State, and Tennessee Tech).
We are getting better every game. Bench guys are getting more comfortable with the game and doing whatever we need to do to help the team.