The Belmont Bruins remained the only unbeaten team in the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 73-71 victory over Stetson Tuesday night at the Curb Events Center. Despite a furious 26-9 run to close the game, the Hatters dropped their third straight – all on the road.
“The guys did get in a hole and obviously they are disappointed we lost but I am very proud of their effort,” said head coach Derek Waugh.
After falling behind the second half by 19 points, Stetson made a final run that began with a 12-2 spurt during which they held Belmont scoreless for nearly five minutes. Tim Lang hit his first three-pointer of the year, added a jump shot and hit two free throws while Hirst sank a jumper and a three to make it 66-59 with 2:04 to play. Another three from Hirst pulled Stetson within 72-69 with nine seconds remaining. But Belmont knocked down enough of their charity shots down the stretch to hold off the resurgent Hatters.
Stetson came out strong, building a 16-8 lead after the game’s first eight minutes. Six different Hatters contributed to a balanced scoring attack. Belmont responded with a 17-4 run and held Stetson scoreless over a period of five-and-a-half minutes, putting the Bruins ahead 25-20. Stetson junior J.J. Hirst then caught fire, scoring the team’s final five points of the half. His three-point play at the 3:06 mark tied the score at 25, though Belmont would eventually head into the locker room with a 30-27 halftime lead.
Belmont took charge in the second half due in large part to the shooting of Justin Hare. The Bruins knocked down nine of their first 10 shots out of halftime, with Hare hitting three three-pointers and adding a lay-up and Andy Wicke also hitting three from beyond the arc. Those efforts keyed a 22-8 run that turned out to be the knockout punch.
Hare went for a game-high 23 points and also found time to dish out 6 assists. Hirst led Stetson with a career-high 19 points on 8-10 shooting. That eclipsed his previous high of 16, which came last year against the Bruins. Tim Lang also went for a career-high with 16 points. He nailed two three-pointers and was 4-4 from the free throw line. Gabe McMillen chipped in with 11.
“Tim really was fantastic,” said Waugh. “He’s one of those kids that is just getting better and better.”
The Hatters were once again without forward Eric Diaz, who missed his second game in a row due to a broken nose.
Stetson returns home Saturday for a 7:00 pm tip-off with Gardner-Webb at the Edmunds Center.