Just like every year, Ohio Valley Conference teams don’t have much of an answer for the Belmont men’s basketball team.
The Bruins currently sit atop the OVC with a 7-1 conference record and are 15-6 overall. The only team to have an answer for the Bruins was Jacksonville State, which beat Belmont at the Curb Event Center 64-60 on Jan. 6.
Besides that loss, most of Belmont’s OVC games haven’t been close. Murray State and UT Martin both lost by 7 points to Belmont.
Eastern Illinois is another team that was able to stick with Belmont before the Bruins beat the Panthers by 9 points at Lantz Arena on Jan. 13. The Panthers came within a point of Belmont in the first quarter when Austin Luke hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Bruins a 36-29 lead going into halftime.
EIU later made it a 2-point game, but Dylan Windler scored 5 points to spark an 11-2 run, and the Bruins held off the Panthers for the win.
Since beating the Panthers, Belmont beat Murray State by 7 points, which gave the Bruins sole possession of first place in the OVC, and pummeled Austin Peay in the second half for an 83-59 win on Saturday.
EIU is next in line to face Belmont as the Panthers travel to the Curb Event Center for a 7 p.m. game on Thursday.
Belmont is shooting 47.8 percent from the field and averaging 76.1 points per game. Plus the Bruins are shooting 37.2 percent from the arc and have made 242 3-pointers on the season.
EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said Belmont’s offense is so good every year because the Bruins consistently have five guys who can score every season.
“You’ve got to keep from getting broken down. For the most part, you can go a couple of possessions and not put yourself into help defense,” Spoonhour said. “But they are really good at putting you in those situations. Luke is great on screens and getting you downhill. Either watch them lay it in or help, and they are a really good passing team. At any time, they have five more-than-capable players on the floor, and some are outstanding.”
Windler is one of those outstanding players and has broken through since the EIU game. He scored a then-career-high 25 points against the Panthers and hit five 3-pointers. Windler followed that up with 21 points against Murray State and then scored a career-high 31 points against Austin Peay on Saturday.
Windler became Belmont’s leading scorer in that span, and the junior wing is averaging 17.4 points per game. He is shooting 53.7 percent from behind the arc in OVC play. He is also grabbing 9.0 rebounds per game this season.
“He made some huge shots against us, really hard shots. I thought we did a pretty good job guarding him in the first half, not in the second half,” Spoonhour said. “We were pretty attentive in that game and they still made 13 (3-pointers). I thought we did well and the numbers don’t bear it out. It gives you an indication of how hard it is to keep them from doing what they want to do.”
Amanze Egekeze adds 16.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, and Kevin McClain added 12.0 points per game. Luke has 151 assists on the season and has hit 40 3-pointers.
While Spoonhour thought the team was attentive in the first game against Belmont, he’s hoping for a better defensive effort during Thursday’s game.
He especially wants to see a better defensive effort than what he saw on Saturday when the Panthers gave up 50 points in the second half in a loss to Southeast Missouri State.
“I would like to play them better than we have played them. That’s what we’ve worked on,” Spoonhour said. “I don’t make guys sit and watch entire halves of games very often, but we did with that (SEMO game). It wasn’t good enough. It was the first game in a while that I have been disappointed with the energy and effort.”
EIU will once again be without Terrell Lewis, who had his ankle re-evaluated on Tuesday. It was determined it would take some time for him to come back yet, so Lewis has decided to sit out the rest of the season and pursue a medical redshirt. Lewis, who is a member of the 1,000-point and 500-assist club, only played in eight games this season.
The Panthers have struggled offensively without Lewis but have scored more than 70 points in back-to-back games since Dec. 19 and 21.
Montell Goodwin leads EIU with 14.6 points per game and is averaging 18.3 points per game in OVC play. Jajuan Starks is averaging 11.8 points per game and freshman Mack Smith has been in double figures the last two games. He was named the OVC Freshman of the Week after hitting 11 3-pointers in the last two games.
“Jajuan has played better the last few games. Mack shooting it in, having another guy that makes shots is a good thing,” Spoonhour said. “(Montell) is giving you everything he’s got. He’s doing great. Just have to put an entire effort together and don’t overcomplicate it.”