Saturday was my first doubleheader of the season. After Lipscomb beat Kennesaw State, I traveled down Belmont Boulevard for Belmont vs. Mercer. But I couldn't get something off my mind as I drove the tree-lined streets to the Curb Event Center. In Allen Arena, along the top of the stadium, each team from the Atlantic Sun was represented with a banner. Every team, that is, except Belmont.
The Bruins are on the move -- next year, they'll join the more-travel-friendly Ohio Valley Conference. Is it an upgrade? That's debatable. But the monetary benefits of moving from an airplane league to a bus league are pretty clear cut. The absence of a Belmont banner in other stadiums isn't just limited to the Bruins' biggest rival, either. According to 800GP correspondent Andrew Baker, Kennesaw State doesn't have a Bruin banner, either. Clearly, a shot from the league office has been fired. (Full disclosure: Belmont has never hung A-Sun team banners at the Curb, probably because the arena is independent from the athletic department.)
After Belmont made the announcement of their A-Sun abandonment last year, everyone knew this season would be sorta awkward. Think about having a relationship crumble just days before a non-refundable trip for two to Hawaii. That's what this season will be like for the Bruins. On top of that, Belmont is the clear favorite to win the conference -- and anything less than a sweep of the A-Sun will be considered a disappointment.
"Target" would be an understatement.
You could tell Mercer wanted to beat Belmont really really bad. And they almost did. Mercer coach Bob Hoffman exerted energy and enthusiasm usually reserved for March and his team responded. Meanwhile, the Bruins were lackluster and it nearly cost them.
Entering the game, Belmont was No. 12 in the country in two-point field goal percentage. But Mercer's defense forced them to shoot only 39.3 percent from the field. Mick Hedgepeth saved the game for Belmont with 38 seconds left. He missed the second shot of a trip to the free throw line, but as the ball was batted around, Hedgepeth swooped in between three Mercer players to secure the rebound. Another foul and Belmont was able to add a point to their four-point lead. Mercer inched closer down the stretch -- and that one point made a giant difference as Belmont sneaked away with the four-point win.
So as the Bruins march through this conference season, they are likely to get icy receptions and decidedly unfriendly send-off parties. Belmont might need to reciprocate those feelings if they hope to run the table.
at BELMONT 82, MERCER 78 12/03/2011
MERCER 5-3 (1-1) -- J. Gollon 4-11 8-9 17; B. Thomas 3-6 2-2 9; L. Hall 6-14 7-8 23; J. Cecil 1-8 2-2 4; D. Coursey 8-9 2-2 18; C. Smith 1-2 0-0 2; P. Larsen 0-1 0-0 0; M. Brown 1-2 0-0 2; K. Canevari 1-1 0-0 3; T. Hallice 0-1 0-0 0; S. Harris 0-1 0-0 0; D. Moten 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-57 21-23 78. BELMONT 5-2 (2-0) -- I. Clark 5-12 2-2 17; K. Johnson 4-11 16-19 25; D. Hanlen 2-6 2-4 7; J. Mann 2-7 2-3 6; M. Hedgepeth 1-4 3-4 5; S. Saunders 4-6 4-5 12; B. Baker 1-6 0-2 3; B. Jenkins 1-2 0-0 2; A. Barnes 2-2 1-1 5; T. Noack 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-56 30-40 82.
Three-point goals: MERC 7-25 (J. Cecil 0-7; J. Gollon 1-4; K. Canevari 1-1; B. Thomas 1-4; L. Hall 4-8; S. Harris 0-1), BELM 8-27 (B. Baker 1-6; D. Hanlen 1-5; M. Hedgepeth 0-1; I. Clark 5-10; K. Johnson 1-2; J. Mann 0-3); Rebounds: MERC 35 (J. Gollon 8), BELM 33 (M. Hedgepeth 9); Assists: MERC 16 (J. Gollon 4), BELM 14 (K. Johnson 4); Total Fouls -- MERC 31, BELM 22; Fouled Out: MERC-C. Smith; BELM-None.