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December 17, 2008
Belmont 82, MT 69: Inside the box
"Defensively we never guarded them the whole game. It was the second straight night we've given up over 50 percent. Our core group of guys, returning players, are giving up way too many easy baskets and don't make toughness plays."
Bruin guards Alex Renfroe and Andy Wicke combined for 47 points and 8 of 13 shooting from 3-point range to lead Belmont, which handed MT its second straight loss at Curb Event Center.
After spurting to a 9-4 lead in the first four minutes, MT was buried under an avalanche of Bruin perimeter shooting and transition precision.
Belmont led by as many as 16 late in the first half and turned back a Blue Raider charge that cut the lead as low as seven during the second half.
Montarrio Haddock's basket gave the Blue Raiders a 9-4 lead with 16:30 left in the first half but Belmont answered right back with a 3-pointer from Shane Dansby. That was the start of what ended up being a 22-6 Bruin run over the next six minutes, a run MT could never recover from. During that stretch, Belmont knocked down five 3-pointers, one by Dansby, one by Matthew Dotson, one by Renfroe, and two by Wicke.
F Montarrio Haddock: Haddock earned a starting spot against the Bruins and didn't disappoint. The emerging junior scored 13 points and grabbed a team leading eight rebounds and was unquestionably MT's most visibly emotionally involved player. He played with passion and pride and earned more trust from the coaching staff.
G Kevin Kanaskie: Kanaskie rediscovered his 3-point shooting touch which helped MT make a run in the second half and move within striking distance of a comeback. Kanaskie continued his stellar assist-to-turnover work, handing out four assists to just two turnovers.
G Demetrius Green-Green had an efficient 14 points on just nine shots and added a pair of offensive rebounds to MT's tally. The senior logged the most minutes of any Blue Raider and also had three assists.
Honorable Mention: Desmond Yates-Yates was poor on the defensive end and drew heavy criticism from his coach after the game, but was a factor in the paint offensively with 13 points and he avoided foul trouble.
Season Star Count
Yates (15) Green (12) Kanaskie (10) Haddock (6) Johnson (5) O'Neil (4) Avery (1)
MT senior guard Nigel Johnson is quite arguably the team's most indispensable player. Johnson sets the tempo for the rest of the roster and when he's not full speed the trickle down effect is measurable.
Johnson aggravated his MCL sprain originally sustained against Vanderbilt when the Blue Raiders lost to UT-Martin Monday night. After sitting out Tuesday's practice, Johnson suited up at Belmont with a heavy brace on his right knee, but he clearly was not his normal self.
It's possible the Blue Raiders will have to go without him for another period of time.
"We've got to get Nigel healthy," Kermit Davis said. "Take Renfroe off of Belmont's team and that's (our situation). He's trying to play but you can tell he can't even make an athletic play. That has changed our team ... that's where we are. He's out there just fighting it. (Trainer Drew Shea) and I are going to talk about it and we may shut him down and try to get him well because he's wallowing in mediocrity right now."
Davis won't use Johnson's injury as a crutch for the rest of the team's poor play but it's undeniable that the point guard engine of the team has to be running full steam ahead for the Blue Raiders to hit peak potential.
Johnson was fantastic in the first three games of the year and keyed MT's upset bid against Tennessee. Since being injured at Vanderbilt, the Blue Raiders have not been the same without him being the table setter.
With full Sun Belt play set to begin December 31st at North Texas, Davis and the training staff could decide it's best to rest Johnson when the team plays at Missouri State's Christmas tournament this weekend.
If you turned your head for a second, you might have just missed another open look for a Belmont 3-point shooter. The Bruins put away MT with deadly outside shooting and took advantage of nearly every single missed assignment and rotation by the Blue Raider defense.
"We just didn't guard and didn't guard well enough," Kevin Kanaskie said. "They really move the ball and they are unselfish. Renfroe gets in the paint and helps everybody. They are definitely difficult to guard and we struggled all night."
Belmont racked up 19 assists and nailed 12 shots from long range.
Davis expressed disappointment in his returning core players that finished last year on such a positive note. On the defensive end, it was Desmond Yates that hurt the most.
"We were trying to double the ball screen but (Yates) just wouldn't rotate out (to shooters)," Davis added. "I had to substitute Boogie out of the game because he couldn't get any stops at all. We were trying to substitute him for defense just to get other guys in there to try to defend."
HADDOCK COMING ON STRONGER
Montarrio Haddock was MT's best player on the court Wednesday night. He was active on both ends of the floor was the team's most passionate rebounder.
The newcomer has mostly let returning veterans on the team handle leadership responsibilities, but he wants to be a guy that the rest of his teammates count on to set a tone for each game.
"I try to set an example to go hard every time, whether it be offensive rebounds leading to easy points or whatever. We don't have any energy and we don't come out with a spark at the beginning of the game, which is when teams are hitting us like UT-Martin did and (tonight) ... I'm just trying to do what I have to do, set an example and get other guys to follow me."
Haddock's eight rebounds came in just 26 minutes of action, a tremendous ratio of a rebound about every three minutes of action.
He also played under control against the Bruins. He recorded just one turnover.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Middle Tennessee now faces another quick turnaround and its first long road trip of the year. The Blue Raiders are off to Springfield, Missouri for three games in three days at Missouri State's Christmas tournament.
The old school coach in Davis would love to have a couple of demanding practices to beat some fundamentals back into his team, but he knows he has to balance the team's need for improvement with its need to be fresh for the grind coming in a couple of days.
"We need to go back to basics even with fourth year guys about defending and toughness," Davis said. "But after playing on Monday night, playing on Wednesday night, and a nine hour bus ride (to Missouri State) you can't (practice too physical). I'd love to have a marathon tomorrow but that's not in the best interest of our team. We're going to do some things over short periods of time and that's just what we've got to do."
Going back to basics involves getting higher quality leadership from the veterans on the roster. With the long road trip and three straight games coming, it's going to be up to players like Kanaskie and Yates to provide what's needed for a revival, particularly if Johnson is out for another stretch of games.
"We just need to move on and get better," Kanaskie said. "We have a lot of work to do before these next three games. We didn't think we'd be 4-5 but we are and we've just got to move on and get better."
Dec. 20: Middle Tennessee vs. UC-Irvine, 5:35 p.m.