Friday, March 16, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Despite a valiant comeback effort, the Belmont men's basketball team (28-7) fell in the NCAA Tournament to No. 3 Georgetown (24-8) on Friday afternoon. The Bruins were held off down the stretch, 74-59.
Sporting a team laden with championship and NCAA Tournament experience, the Bruins entered this season's foray into college basketball's grandest stage fortified with confidence.
Led by all-conference guards Drew Hanlen, Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson, Belmont had the needed ingredients of poise, resolve and three-point shooting to claim the program's first NCAA Tournament victory in five trips.
Standing in the Bruins' way would be a formidable foe; Georgetown boasted one of the nation's top defensive teams. The Hoyas entered play leading the NCAA in three-point field goal percentage defense, and among the national leaders in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.
Moreover, the Georgetown lineup of four players at 6-8 or taller presents challenges for every opponent - Belmont included.
Case in point, Bruin combo guard Johnson would open the game defending Georgetown power forward Nate Lubick.
Belmont got off to a promising start as sophomore Blake Jenkins tipped home a missed Bruin shot to open the scoring. But five straight points from Hoya All Big-East guard Jason Clark gave Georgetown a 5-2 lead.
The Bruins replied in kind, as consecutive three-pointers from Jenkins and Clark enable Belmont to claim an 8-7 lead 3:06 in.
But Georgetown's Clark continued to score from all angles; five more points capped a 7-0 Hoya run and made the score 14-8 six minutes in.
Belmont answered back with one free throw from senior Scott Saunders and a three-pointer from Hanlen to close within 14-12.
For the first seven minutes of the game, Belmont had an offensive rhythm and pace to its liking. The Bruins were attacking inside and kicking for clean looks against Hoya man-to-man defense.
But midway through the first half, Georgetown would make a tactical decision that reaped dividends. The Hoyas, who utilize a halfcourt 2-3 zone defense, in particular on baseline out-of-bounds plays, shifted exclusively into zone defense, and it made the crisp, lively Bruin offensive attack hit the brakes.
Though Georgetown big man Henry Sims would be limited due to foul trouble, Otto Porter capped a 9-0 Hoya run over four minutes that increased the margin to 23-12 with 9:29 left in the half.
During the run, Belmont surrendered three backdoor layins to the Hoya Princeton-style offense.
Nevertheless, out of a spirited Bruin timeout, the Atlantic Sun Conference champions fought on.
Behind more strong play from Jenkins and a nifty left-handed finish from Saunders, the Bruins closed to 26-19 with 6:13 in the first half.
The Bruins could have gotten even closer, but uncharacteristic free throw misses halted the push.
A baseline Porter three-pointer increased Georgetown's edge to 30-19 with 3:47 in the half.
But a Hanlen trey and two more Saunders free throws narrowed the margin to 36-27, and following a defensive stop, the Bruins had an opportunity to get even close by halftime.
However, active Georgetown defense kept Belmont from getting off a final shot in the first half.
Belmont shot 39 percent (9-for-23) from the field in the first half - including 6-for-15 from three-point distance. Jenkins led the Bruins with eight first half points.
The Bruins went scoreless the first 2:44 of the second half as Georgetown extended to a 40-27 lead on a Sims basket. Belmont two Johnson free throws got the team going and when Clark tacked on a deep straight-on three-pointer, the Bruins closed within 42-34 with 15:28 left.
Jenkins then kept the momentum going with a steal and tip-in basket to get Belmont within 42-36 with 14:52 left.
The sizable Bruin support section and the majority of Nationwide Arena crowd rose in support of the Belmont spurt. After Markel Starks missed a three-pointer, it looked lilke Belmont was on the verge of getting even closer as Saunders rejected Jason Clark on a putback attempt to trigger a Belmont break.
But Saunders was called for goaltending, and Clark was awarded two points.
Baskets from Sims and Greg Whittington followed and suddenly Georgetown was back up 12, 48-36, with 13:01 left.
The sequence was a huge turning point in the game, as points against the Hoya zone proved hard-earned and at a premium.
Interior baskets from Saunders and Jenkins twice got Belmont within 10 points, but five more points from the rangy Whittington extinguished the Bruin charge.
Despite Georgetown making contested shots with regularity, Belmont continued to hang around.
A conventional three-point play from Saunders and a three-pointer from Hanlen closed the Bruins within 58-49 with 5:42 left.
But a Porter conventional three-point play capped a back-breaking 12-2 Georgetown run and made the scored 70-51 with 3:10 remaining.
Sophomore J.J. Mann and Clark each made three-pointers in the final moments, as Belmont played right to the end.
All told, Belmont shot 39 percent (21-for-54) from the field - including 10-for-27 from three-point distance. The Bruins grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and only committed nine turnovers. But 61 percent shooting from the Hoyas proved too much to overcome.
The 61 percent Georgetown shooting represents the highest field-goal shooting percentage against Belmont since Pittsburgh shot 62 percent Nov. 25, 2008.
Jenkins, in arguably the best game of his career, led three Bruins in double figures with 17 points, five rebounds and two steals. Clark scored 12 points while Saunders added 10 points and five rebounds.
Johnson had a team-high six assists.
Jason Clark led Georgetown (24-8) with 21 points.
Belmont's 2011-12 season ends at 27-8.