JACKSONVILLE, Ala. - - Behind 16 points and 11 rebounds from junior J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.), Belmont University men's basketball defeated Jacksonville State, 73-62, Thursday night in the program's first Ohio Valley Conference game.
Belmont and Jacksonville State entered following strong non-conference play, coming into the contest as the top two defensive efficiency teams in the OVC.
Though it would be the Bruins' long awaited debut in OVC play, Belmont and Jacksonville State had met five previous times, including four times as brief Atlantic Sun Conference foes from 2001-03.
Two early baskets from senior Trevor Noack (Keller, Texas) got the Bruins out quickly. In fact, Belmont held Jacksonville State scoreless for the opening 5:23. But after two free throws from senior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) increased the Bruin lead to 8-2, Noack picked up his second personal with 11:56 remaining in the half.
Belmont's top frontcourt option would be relegated to the Bruin bench for the rest of the half. But fellow frontcourt starter – junior Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) – would rise to the occasion, providing consistent interior scoring.
Jenkins' fourth basket in a two minute stretch gave Belmont a 21-11 advantage with 8:03 left in the half.
The Gamecocks closed within eight, but a steal and coast to coast layin from Clark pushed the margin back to 31-20 with 2:55 left in the half.
Belmont had been extremely efficient, poised, and unified in the opening 17 minutes in building a double figure lead. But in short order, Jacksonville State point guard Brian Williams led a stern reply.
Back-to-back three-pointers, including one of the banked variety, enabled the hosts to close the half on an 11-2 run and get within 33-31 at halftime.
Belmont shot 48 percent (14-for-29) from the field in the opening 20 minutes – including 0-for-3 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded JSU, 17-11, in the first half.
After shouldering a difficult final three minutes of the first half, Belmont got a much needed shot in the arm as Mann swished a wing three-pointer to increase the lead to 36-31 with 19:07 remaining.
Darion Rackley tied the score at 38 before Mann answered with another three-pointer of his own.
In fact, Mann and Noack combined on nine consecutive Bruin points to stave off an offensive push from Jacksonville State. However, consecutive baskets from Ronnie Boggs and Tarvin Gaines gave the Gamecocks their first lead of the game, 48-47, with 10:24 left.
Belmont responded well, as sophomore Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) sank a three-pointer in front of the Bruin bench – off a timely cross-court feed from Clark – to put Belmont back on top, 50-48, with 10:03 left.
After a determined layin from Chamberlain, Mann scored four more points to increase the margin to 56-50 with 7:04 left.
Williams cut the deficit in half when he rattled home a wing three-pointer, but Noack delivered a clutch, straight-on three-pointer on the next Bruin possession to give Belmont a 59-53 lead with 6:09 remaining.
Leading 63-57 at the under four timeout, senior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) and Clark would combine on six straight points to stretch the lead to 12 with 2:37 to go.
Solid defense, rebounding, and free throw shooting would secure the Bruin victory.
All told, Belmont shot 52 percent (26-for-50) from the field – including 4-for-10 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded Jacksonville State, 31-22, and forced 15 JSU turnovers.
Belmont went 17-for-17 from the free throw line.
Mann led five Bruins in double figures with 16 points and a career-high 11 rebounds – his first career double-double. Jenkins had 14 points and nine rebounds, while Clark added 12 points and four steals.
Noack had 11 points, and Johnson had 11 points, six assists and three steals.
Williams led Jacksonville State (10-4, 2-1 OVC) with 18 points.
Belmont (10-4, 1-0 OVC) returns to action Saturday, Jan. 5 at Tennessee Tech. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. CT.
The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network and 104.5 The Zone. Live video streaming will be available via the OVC Digital Network. In-game updates will be provided via Twitter @BelmontMBB.