Heading into the game the teams were nearly identical on paper. Both averaged more than 74 points per game, more than 17 assists per game and were in the top 20 in team field goal possession. That was on paper though. The Bruins (22-6, 12-2 OVC) beat the Bobcats (20-7, 11-1 MAC) 81-62 in an entirely lopsided game.
Saturday night on the road before a packed crowd at the Curb Event Center in Nashville, Tennessee The Bobcats got off to a great early start. They forced three turnovers in first two minutes. Capitalizing on the Bruins early mistakes they jumped out to an early 5-2 lead on quick scores by T.J. Hall and Nick Kellogg. But the momentum was short lived.
Belmont took the lead on a floater from J.J. Mann with just under 15 minutes left in the first half. By the 10 minute mark the Bruins were up 19-10. Things got uglier for the 'Cats from there. Ohio's struggled all season long on the road, often plagued by slow starts. Saturday's loss to the Bruins was no different. The team shot just 36 percent from the field. Star senior D.J. Cooper played especially poorly, managing just three points, missing four out of his five shot attempts. He also turned the ball over four times in the first half (his season average is 3.6 turnovers per game) including three in the first four minutes.
Where the 'Cats floundered the Bruins shined. Mann and Trevor Noack combined for 18 points and eight rebounds in the first half alone. Ohio's defense struggled to slow the Bruins high screen game. At half time, the Bruins were up 24-41.
Ohio wasn't able to cut the deficit to single digits for the rest of the game. Ohio never regained it's composure and despite head coach Jim Christians best efforts to change things up they couldn't slow Belmont down. In a post game radio interview he commented on the mental mistakes that cost them all night long.
"We didn't play very smart. We played very hard, we just didn't play very smart. We got put in some bad situations. Every time we were in one on one situations we fouled. You just can't do that."
Cooper finished with just six points, three assists and four turnovers. The 'Cats combined for 11 assists, an extremely low number for the nations leader in total assists per game heading into the contest. Things got so bad for Ohio that former country music "star" Vince Gill and apparent Belmont "super fan" was caught taunting Ohio backup point guard Stevie Taylor with a weird salute.
Not everything was bad for Ohio. T.J. Hall and Reggie Keely combined for 22 points on 9 of 18 from the field. The pair also added 13 rebounds, exactly half of the Ohio team total. Bruins guard Ian Clark who suffered an ankle injury in the first half, returned to finish up with 18 points and six rebounds. Noack finished the game with 17 and six. Mann added 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Kerron Johnson had 16 points, went 10 of 12 from the free throw line and added four boards and five assists to the Bruins performance.
Ohio will look to rebound from the embarrassing performance against Belmont on the road when they return home to take on the Akron Zips Wednesday night. The Zips (22-4, 12-0 MAC) are coming off a 68-53 win over the North Dakota State Bison Friday night. They also pummeled Ohio 86-72 in Akron on February 2nd and are currently riding the nations longest winning streak at 18 games.