SE Missouri State (10-7) at Belmont (11-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 10, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Curb Events Center (5,000) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: SEMO 6-2, Belmont 4-0. Away Record: SEMO 4-3, Belmont 5-3. Neutral Record: SEMO 0-2, Belmont 2-1. Conference Record: SEMO 2-1, Belmont 2-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Belmont Bruins will try to avoid their first-ever Ohio Valley Conference loss on Thursday when they host the SE Missouri State Redhawks at the Curb Events Center.
SEMO continued its strong finish to 2012 as it clipped Austin Peay, 86-84, to extend its winning streak to four on Jan. 3, but it was unable to find the same success against Murray State two days later and dropped a 74-66 decision to the Racers. The Redhawks' first loss in OVC action of the season lowered their overall record to 10-7, but they are 4-3 on the road. Coach Dickey Nutt's squad is decent on the offensive end with 71.5 points per game on 45.7 percent field goal shooting, however it is even better on the other end of the floor where it leads the conference in field-goal percentage defense (.380).
The Bruins completed an 83-52 rout of Tennessee Tech on Saturday for their fourth win in five outings. Belmont defeated Jacksonville State by 11 points on the road two days earlier in its OVC debut and enters this one with an 11-4 overall record that includes a 4-0 mark at home. Rick Byrd's team was expected to be Murray State's top competitor for the league crown prior to the season and it has not dispelled that notion so far as it comes in with a +12.1 scoring margin, which is the best in the conference.
These schools have never faced off before on the hardwood.
A.J. Jones did his best to guide the Redhawks past Murray State as he tallied a team-best 20 points, but the Racers overcame a second-half deficit by producing a 19-3 run. SEMO also grabbed 14 less rebounds (43-29) and got outscored 18-8 at the charity stripe. Tyler Stone chipped in 16 points, while Corey Wilford finished with 15 points and five assists in the loss. Stone is pacing the team with 16.9 ppg, which he accompanies with 8.2 rpg. Wilford is also a steady contributor at 14.2 ppg, but Nino Johnson is going to be the key for the Redhawks. The 6-8 sophomore forward is near a double-double average (11.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and can make a big impact by producing points on the interior, but he needs to stay out of foul trouble.
Belmont was able to coast past the Golden Eagles its last time out as it connected on 13-of-25 attempts from 3-point range, while Tennessee Tech managed to net just 33.3 percent of its shots from the floor in the contest. J.J. Mann poured in a career-high 21 points, while Ian Clark contributed 19 points. Kerron Johnson was a big part of the offensive outburst, as he dealt out 10 of the team's 24 assists. If Mann continues to light up the scoreboard, the Bruins will be nearly impossible to defend as its other four starters are all already scoring in double figures regularly, with Clark at the head of the class at 17.1 ppg. Johnson is the team's second leading scorer (13.3 ppg) and Trevor Noack is a serviceable role player with 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per outing.
SEMO is steadily developing into a program that will contend for the OVC Championship, but it has not reached the heights of Belmont and Murray State just yet. A victory over the Bruins on the road could propel the Redhawks into the discussion, but Byrd's unit is going to have to have an off-night for an upset to occur.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Belmont 83, SE Missouri State 73
01/10 10:34:37 ET