Belmont Ends UNF’s Magical Run
MACON, Ga. - The University of North Florida’s magical run for the Atlantic Sun Men’s Basketball title came to a screeching halt on Saturday when the top-seeded Belmont Bruins (30-4) crushed the Ospreys 87-46 to win the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
Jumping out to a 16-4 lead, Belmont was never threatened by the young Ospreys, dominating the nationally-televised championship game from the opening tip-off to the final buzzer. In winning its twelfth straight game — the second-longest winning streak in the nation — Belmont set an Atlantic Sun record for the largest margin of victory in a championship game.
Belmont, which will be making its fourth appearance in the NCAA tournament, hit more than fifty percent of its shots from the floor, including 9 of 20 from beyond the arc. They also dominated the boards, out-rebounding the smaller Ospreys 39-22, while forcing 25 turnovers.
Belmont’s Mick Hedgepeth, the tournament’s MVP, led all scorers with 23 points while snaring nine rebounds. Two other Bruins also scored in double figures.
Senior Brad Haugabrook, a transfer from Northwood University and the only UNF player to score in double figures, led the Ospreys with ten points.
The Ospreys, who scratched and clawed their way to the championship game by upsetting Jacksonville University and East Tennessee State, could never get into offensive rhythm against the much deeper Belmont squad, winners of 22 of their last 23 games.
“Defensively, they were just really denying us the ball, and we weren’t able to move it side to side like we usually do,” said UNF’s Parker Smith. “They just stopped any scoring that we usually get in transition, and that put us in our half-court sets all night. We are a good half-court team, but we like to score points in transition, so that made it very frustrating. They just played great team defense.”
Belmont, which nearly upset second-seeded Duke in the first round of the 2008 NCAA tournament, falling to the heavily-favored Blue Devils 76-75, once again has an opportunity to be this year’s Cinderella story — a role the young Ospreys were hoping to play.
UNF coach Matthew Driscoll likes Belmont‘s chances in the Big Dance. “They’re going to be a very tough out,” he said.