Nick and Belmont Blow Morehead State into Smithereens
The Belmont Bruins (20-5, 14-1) sent a bruised Morehead State (13-14, 9-5) team back home winless for Nashville, 89-73.
The upstart Golden Eagles came to town this week angling for a surefire #3 seed in the OVC Tournament. Now Morehead State is at risk of collapsing out of the #3/4 single bye game.
“That is the goal,” said Morehead State Head Coach Preston Spradlin. “That has been the goal for awhile, ever since Belmont kind of ran away with this thing. You can’t get the #2 seed because of the way the tournament is set up, so you are fighting for the 3-seed. Our guys know that and so do we, but you don’t let that distract you from the game-to-game stuff.”
The Golden Eagles still hold a slight edge over Jacksonville State (8-5), Tennessee Tech (7-6), and 1.5 games lead over Tennessee State.
Stone-Faced Killer Nick Smith
Sneaky Nick did it again. Without altering his facial expression or sprinting around the arc, Smith carved out his shooting windows, and finished the work.
Smith finished with 19 points, eight early in the second half.
Either sloth or negligence from Morehead State allowed the sharpshooter Smith to bury his first two triples of the second half. Noticing Xavier Moon (16 points) on him, Smith posted the guard on the blocks to get out to a quick second half start.
When Smith hit his fifth triple the Curb Events Center roared to life. Bigs Tyler Hadden and Seth Adelsperger shared a lightly-orchestrated cheer on the bench.
“I think it is the best feeling in the world,” said Nick Smith. “I love shooting three’s. So seeing them go in is just a lot of fun, especially after I haven’t been shooting the best so far. It was good to get back out and make some.”
The excitement was quickly interrupted by a Taylor Barnette (17 points) quick trigger in transition. Belmont popped out to a 14-point lead after a closely contested first half that saw seven lead changes.
With 15:29 to play the game was now a chase and not a tussle.
Tight Tussle Early
Nick Smith hit his first shot from the wing, but it took awhile to find.
Late in the challenging opening frame, Smith arched a rainbow three-pointer just under the rafter. Morehead State kept track of the floating fire-slinger better than most OVC defenses. His small, quiet maneuvers usually result in 5+ open looks a half.
He was able to knock down three triples in four attempts before the break. With a small 41-36 halftime lead Belmont’s success was not guaranteed.
“We never really got our mojo going in the first half,” said Nick Smith. “Towards the end of the first half and into the second we were really able to get our energy going and hop on it.”
Coach Spradlin’s big men really slowed the prospective OVC Player of the Year Evan Bradds (19 points, 9 rebs) in the opening frame. Bradds made just three shots in the first half, though he did provide two assists. Aside from Smith, the Bruins made just three three-pointers by halftime.
The team felt some pressure to feed the post and slash as Morehead really closed out effectively. The second half had a different feel though.
“They got out and they played inside-out,” said Morehead State Head Coach Preston Spradlin. “Maybe that is where it starts, really our lack of making Evan (Bradds) start further out, so when you are digging off of good shooters you don’t have to dig as far so your close-outs aren’t as far.”
Bradds’ first half should be considered a team win for Morehead State. He only managed seven points, but he did rack up multiple fouls on Ty’Quan Bitting and DeJuan Marrero. The few minutes Marrero sat opened up the paint a little for Belmont. The Bruins scored 20 points in the paint in the first half.
There is something to be learned from Morehead State’s defensive success in the first half.
“We actually played Eastern Kentucky and they did the same thing,” said Smith. “We only shot 14 three’s in that game. And so more teams have been running us off the line. But again you have more guys like Taylor and Austin (Luke) that can dish it inside or find guys outside.”
Clearly defenses would take a slashing Barnette over an unchallenged three-point attempt. Making Smith work underneath would also be preferable to the agony of his sky-piercing offerings. The hard part is limiting good looks from Smith, Barnette, while slowing Bradds in an unenviable one-on-one matchup underneath.
We are getting better at not shooting the first shot, but working to find a better shot,” said Smith.
For a team shooting 50.2% in conference play to be increasing their efficiency is scary.