For BracketBuster Saturday, I wasn't too intrigued with any of the matchmaking done to my local teams, so I decided to make a little weekend road trip. The two games that appeared to be most interesting were to be found five to six hours to the south of me; I passed up one last chance to see Nate Wolters, this time a head-to-head duel against Isaiah Canaan at Murray State, instead heading down to Nashville to see a clash between Ohio and Belmont.
Game #9-441: Ohio Bobcats at Belmont BruinsFebruary 23, 2013 10:00 pm
Curb Events Center
This game effectively illustrated why the BracketBuster concept has ultimately failed us. In what was arguably one of the top matchups of the day, and frankly an enjoyable game for fans to witness, these two teams were pulled out of highly competitive conference races for a game against a challenging non-conference opponent. A win in this one would probably not be sufficiently high-profile to move either team solidly into the at-large pool, but a loss would certainly be used against that team and likely justify eliminating them from at-large consideration. Little upside and big downside - let this be the epitaph of the BracketBuster series.
For Ohio, BracketBuster day was particularly poorly timed, as their next game was to be a home contest against fellow MAC powerhouse Akron, and with it, their only real chance to achieve a regular season conference championship. Instead of focusing all of their attention on that key game, they were forced to hit the road against a very strong team in a nationally televised game. The attention they received here was a plus; the attention taken away from Akron by them being here was a minus. For Belmont, this was more of a positive experience. The ESPN networks don't often make their way to the Curb Event Center, nor do teams with Sweet Sixteen heritage, and so this served as a highlight of sorts for their program.
Having spent the week before the game in icy and blustery northern Indiana, the sun and mid-50 degree temperatures of Nashville felt almost tropical. I spent the afternoon walking around the city's famed Music Row, and also toured the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. This happened to be Ford Community Day at the Hall, with the company providing free admission to everyone for the day. The 9:00 PM Central tip-time for the game allowed for plenty of sight-seeing during the day, and I was able to accomplish quite a bit at a minimal cost.
The beautiful Belmont campus displays the elegance of the South. The Curb Event Center is unlike any college basketball arena I've ever visited.
Perhaps because of the late start, there was a sizable crowd waiting inside the main entrance for the doors to open, a full 90 minutes before tip time.
Once inside, the early arrivers were treated, fittingly for the location, to a mini-concert by the Stella Sisters, who I learned are featured on the ABC television show, Nashville.
While I wasn't familiar with the Stella Sisters, I was well aware of the recent successes of Coach Rick Byrd and Belmont. The five banners-in-seven years display is impressive regardless of the conference affiliation.
There was a high degree of energy in the building for this game, with a large and active student section at mid-court.
There was also a smaller (but still vocal) group of students seated behind one of the baskets. This latter group featured a number of young men who modeled clothing from the Rick Byrd Collection.
As Byrd eyed that group from the other end of the court, he seemed less than impressed, no doubt thinking that they needed to don a lighter color of khakis.The game featured some good defense in its opening moments, with both sides forcing several early turnovers. Belmont soon started running effective offense, keyed primarily by point guard Kerron Johnson. I had been very familiar with Belmont's Ian Clark, and certainly remembered Ohio's three-guard set of Walter Offutt, Nick Kellogg, and D. J. Cooper from back when we were all Bobcats last March. However, of all of the guards on the court, it was Johnson who impressed me the most. His quickness allowed him to get into the lane on offense, doing so against guards that I considered to be fairly high caliber. He finished with sixteen points and five assists, and if the official scorer would have been given the authority to credit hockey-style assists, where a pass set up another pass that led to a made basket, Johnson could have had several more of those assists. In those stretches in which their offense was effective, and there were many such stretches over the course of this game, I enjoyed watching Belmont run their offense as much as any team I'd seen this year. They have good balance and present some real challenges for the opposing defense to prevent them from eventually finding an open man.
As the first half neared its conclusion, with Belmont holding a 34-20 lead, Clark grabbed a long rebound off of a missed three-pointer by Cooper, and got free for a relatively uncontested look at the basket. As he pulled up for a finger roll layup, something went horribly wrong as the Belmont star dropped to the floor with the ball falling well short of the rim. When the trainer came out and began examining Clark's knee, it was a tough sight to witness.
As he was helped off the court and taken straight to the locker room, all I could think was how horrible a way this was for Clark's Belmont career to end. But while I was mourning Clark's fate, his teammates kept on going, closing the half on a 7-0 run, and building a very impressive 41-24 lead.
After the teams came out of the locker room for the second half, I noticed one of the Belmont players jogging along the sidelines with over-exaggerated knee lifts. I haven't seen a lot of Belmont games, so I wasn't sure who that was, but he sure looked like Ian Clark. When I convinced myself that it couldn't possibly be him, especially with no brace or wrap on his knee, my mind drifted to other things. Yet, when the players took off their warm-ups and took the court to begin play, there was #21, showing no effects from the injury whatsoever.
Post-game reports I read indicated that Clark suffered a minor knee sprain, but he played almost the entire second half, and I never once noticed him limited by injury. In fact, with a pair of free throws near the end of the game, Clark became the school's all-time leading scorer. That's a nice way to bounce back from what initially appeared to be a near-catastrophic injury.
Belmont would cruise to what was, to me, a surprisingly easy victory. Their second half lead never got below double digits, their offense was excellent, and their defense shut down Ohio's talented backcourt (Offutt, Cooper, and Kellogg would combine for 2-16 three-point shooting and ten turnovers). Yes, on this night, it certainly was Bruin Time.
I will watch with interest over the next few weeks to see the fate of these two teams. For Ohio, they will definitely need to win the MAC tournament championship, which would almost certainly require knocking off Akron (which they failed to do in the game following this one). For Belmont, they will probably be the favorite of most observers to win the OVC tournament, which will be held across town here in Nashville. However, Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee State, and Murray State will all pose significant challenges to the Bruins.
Both of these teams are capable of doing some damage within the NCAA tournament, but they each have work to do in order to get there. The BracketBuster provided us with an interesting game with this matchup, but really provided nothing of value to either team that participated in it related to their ultimate goal.
May it rest in peace.
at BELMONT 81, OHIO 62
OHIO 20-7 (11-1) -- D. Cooper 1-8 3-4 6; R. Keely 5-9 2-2 12; W. Offutt 2-6 3-3 7; T. Hall 4-9 0-0 10; N. Kellogg 3-8 0-0 7; T. Wikins 1-4 0-0 2; R. Johnson 2-5 1-1 5; I. Baltic 1-2 0-0 2; J. Smith 2-3 1-3 5; S. Taylor 2-4 0-0 6. Totals 23-58 10-13 62.
BELMONT 22-6 (12-2) -- J. Mann 6-13 2-2 17; I. Clark 6-14 4-4 18; K. Johnson 3-5 10-12 16; T. Noack 7-12 1-1 17; B. Baker 1-1 0-0 2; R. Chamberlain 2-3 0-0 4; B. Jenkins 1-2 2-6 4; C. Bradshaw 1-2 0-0 3; A. Barnes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-52 19-25 81.
Three-point goals: OHIO 6-25 (W. Offutt 0-3; D. Cooper 1-7; R. Keely 0-1; T. Hall 2-4; N. Kellogg 1-6; S. Taylor 2-2; T. Wikins 0-2), BELM 8-22 (I. Clark 2-7; K. Johnson 0-1; T. Noack 2-3; J. Mann 3-9; C. Bradshaw 1-2); Rebounds: OHIO 26 (R. Keely 8), BELM 34 (J. Mann 7); Assists: OHIO 11 (D. Cooper 3), BELM 15 (K. Johnson 5); Total Fouls -- OHIO 21, BELM 17; Fouled Out: OHIO-None; BELM-None.