Belmont Tops Mercer in Battle of Top-Two A-Sun Teams

Saturday, February 25, 2012

MACON, Ga. - Playing without two starters, Belmont men's basketball rode its defense, depth and heart in defeating Mercer, 62-61, Saturday night.

After clinching another Atlantic Sun Conference regular season championship and tournament No. 1 seed Thursday night, the Bruins elected to err on the side of caution in regards to two starting players.

Leading scorer Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) and sophomore forward Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) did not suit up for the game, nursing minor injuries.

Junior Adam Barnes (Clarksville, Tenn.) and sophomore J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) were inserted into starting lineup.

A near-capacity Senior Day crowd packed the University Center for the rare instance of two 20-win Atlantic Sun teams meeting in a regular season finale.

Belmont got off to a slow start. With equal parts strong Mercer defense and Bruins' adjusting to a new lineup, the Bears jumped out to an 8-2 lead six minutes in.

But consecutive three-pointers from senior Drew Hanlen (St. Louis, Mo.) and junior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) and a free throw from senior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) gave the Bruins a 9-8 lead.

Senior Scott Saunders (New Orleans, La.) was limited in the first half, as he picked up two personal fouls in a one second span.

With Belmont laboring for offense, Mercer inched to a 22-14 lead on a Jakob Gollon basket.

But the Bruins stayed strong, and behind back-to-back three from Clark and Mann, tied the score at 27 at the half.

Belmont shot 36 percent (10-for-28) from the field - including 4-for-13 from three-point distance. The Bruins also outrebounded Mercer, 18-17.