NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Two weeks ago when Belmont visited Lantz Arena, the Eastern Illinois men’s basketball team was able to give the Bruins some trouble on the offensive end at times inside. Belmont still got the win in the first game.
During Thursday’s second matchup between the two teams, Belmont found a way to attack more inside. Belmont got EIU forwards Muusa Dama and Aboubacar Diallo in early foul trouble. Without those two in the game, it changed EIU’s interior defense completely and Belmont was able to attack.
Without those two in, Belmont was able to build a double-digit lead and the Bruins didn’t slow down until the second half. EIU couldn’t dig out of the double-digit hole, either, and Belmont cruised to an 81-59 win over EIU.
“Muusa and Diallo both got three fouls and I think they earned most of them. Not like they were soft calls, they fouled,” EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. “There’s the difference in your defense when you don’t have one of them in. Played without both of them and that was the stretch we couldn’t stop them. Really, when you get down to it, they are really good at breaking you down and we couldn’t stay in front of them.”
EIU (7-13, 3-6 OVC) shot 46.2 percent for the game and Mack Smith scored 16 points and Devonte Price has 12 points. But Belmont shot 50 percent from the field, including 58.1 percent in the first half.
The Panthers struggled offensively in the first half, though, shooting only 38.5 percent and Spoonhour wasn’t happy with some of the jump shots because they came too early in the shot clock and weren’t smart shots.
“It’s a hard team to guard and we didn’t play very smart offensively in the first half, Spoonhour said. “When you get beat by 20, it’s not hard to find out why.”
Dama picked up his second foul with 16:26 left in the first quarter and Belmont went up 7-4. Then Diallo picked up his second foul about 2 minutes later and Belmont went up 12-4.
Without two key rebounders, Belmont took advantage and had five offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points in the first 8 minutes and went up 15-9.
EIU’s defense was able to limit Dylan Windler, Austin Luke and Amanze Egekeze early, but it was little-used fifth-year senior Tyler Hadden who made his mark early. Hadden came into the game averaging only 5.8 minutes per game and 1.6 points per game, but had seven points, three rebounds and an assist to help Belmont go up 20-9 with 10:28 left in the half. Hadden finished with a career-high 17 points.
Then Windler started to take over. He scored five points during a 9-5 run to put Belmont up 29-14 and the Bruins never slowed down in the first half. Windler finished 19 points in the first half as Belmont went into the locker room with a 51-28 lead.
Windler finished with 28 points.
“Windler, he’s really playing,” Spoonhour said. “This last week he has been unbelievable and he’s just continuing it.”
Belmont’s offense kept rolling to begin the second half and the Bruins got out to a 66-41 lead with 11:45 left in the game.
The Bruins did start to slow down and only shot 39 percent in the second half, but the deficit was too much to overcome as Belmont went on to win 81-59.