Arizona quickly deep-sixed Belmont from the NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins’ sixth appearance ended just like the other five — with an opening round loss. Belmont, a program-best No. 11 seed, had no answer for the Wildcats’ size and endured one of its worst shooting performances of the season in an 81-64 loss on Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
Excluding a one-point loss to Duke in 2008, the Bruins have lost five NCAA Tournament games by an average of 21 points. Against No. 6 seed Arizona (26-7), Belmont never led and trailed by 21 in the second half.
As has been the case in the previous trips, the Bruins (26-7) couldn’t overcome their size disadvantage. Arizona won the rebounding battle 44-20 and scored twice as many points in the paint with a 36-18 edge. The Wildcats also took away the 3-point shot. Belmont made just eight of 27 (29.6 percent) from beyond the arc.
The Bruins sputtered from the start and fell into a 14-4 hole. A 3-pointer by Ian Clark with 8:33 left in the first half pulled them within two, 16-14. That was as close as they got.
Arizona guard Mark Lyons scored seven straight points to spark a 16-6 run and take a commanding 32-20 lead into halftime. It marked the lowest-scoring first half all season for Belmont.
Also hurting the Bruins’ upset bid was that Arizona rarely missed. After the break, the Wildcats made four of their first five shots to stretch the lead to 18 and dig an even deeper hole for Belmont. Arizona, which finished third in the Pac-12, shot 56.9 percent from the field and 52.9 percent (9-of-17) from 3-point range. Four players scored in double figures, paced by 23 from Lyons.
Belmont cut the deficit to 64-53 with J.J. Mann’s deep 3-pointer with 5:28 left to cap off a 10-0 run. But Kevin Parrom answered right back by slashing to the basket for a layup. Solomon Hill followed that with a rally-ending 3-pointer on the next possession.
Kerron Johnson scored 22 points and Clark added 21 as the backcourt duo played in their final collegiate game. It ended the careers of five Belmont seniors — Johnson, Clark, Trevor Noack, Brandon Baker and Adam Barnes — who accumulated 102 wins, three NCAA Tournament trips, four conference championships and three league tournament titles.
The loss also snapped a four-year NCAA Tournament winning streak for the Ohio Valley Conference, which Belmont joined this season. Starting in 2009, Morehead State and Murray State had each won twice.