SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2009
JU wins A-Sun regular season title with 84-82 win over Belmont
Four years ago, the JU men’s basketball team won one game with Marcus Allen leading the team as a freshman.

On Saturday, his career came full circle as Allen hit a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left that gave JU its first lead in overtime and propelled the Dolphins to an 84-82 win over Belmont at the Curb Event Center to clinch the school’s first Atlantic Sun regular season championship.

While Allen hit the big shot in overtime, it was junior point guard Ben Smith who put the Dolphins (17-12, 15-5 A-Sun) in position to win. Smith scored 27 points, had six rebounds, eight assists and five steals in 42 minutes of action.

In the last five minutes of regulation, Smith scored 14 of JU’s 15 points, hitting two big 3-pointers to slow down Belmont’s rally. He finished the game having hit 10-of-19 from the floor, 3-of-5 from behind the arc and 4-of-5 at the free throw line.

“Everyone on our team had a hand in winning this game today,” said JU head coach Cliff Warren. “Our goal at the beginning of the season was to win a championship and we were fortunate enough to accomplish that. Now, we have to refocus on the tournament and our ultimate goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament.”

The game ended up a duel between two of the guards in the A-Sun, as Alex Renfroe was just as solid for Belmont as Smith was for JU.

Renfroe finished with 38 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals in 44 minutes of action. He hit 13-of-24 in the game and was 12-of-21 from the free throw line.

The win was just the second in seven tries at Belmont (18-11, 14-6 A-Sun) and handed the Bruins’ their home loss in conference play.

Having erased a 10-point deficit in the final three minutes of regulation, the Bruins opened overtime with momentum firmly on their side. And they picked up right where they left off, controlling the lead for the first four plus minutes of overtime.

But trailing by one with less than a minute to go, the Dolphins ran a pick-and-roll play to get Smith free for a drive to the basket. The defense collapsed on Smith and he kicked to Allen, who knocked the 3-pointer from the top of the key to put JU ahead for the first time in the extra period, 83-82.

It was the second 3-pointer of the game for the senior center who had hit just six during the first 28 games of the season.

“As soon as we called that play, I knew I was going to have that shot,” Allen said. “When Ben drove, I knew their defense would sag down and I was confident I was going to knock that shot down.”

Facing a deficit for the first time in quite awhile, Andy Wicke missed a jumper and Ayron Hardy hit 1-of-2 at the stripe to give Belmont at last chance with five seconds left in the game.

Racing the ball up the floor, Renfroe had the ball poked away by Smith and forced Wicke to throw up a 30-footer at the buzzer that was off the mark, handing the Dolphins the title.

There were some tense moments late in the game when it looked as if the Dolphins were going to be able to win the title in regulation.

Trailing by 10, 64-54, with 2:25 to go the Bruins got hot – starting with a Wicke 3-pointer to cut it to seven and a 3-point play by Renfroe cut the deficit to four with 1:10 left in regulation.

Smith hit a pair of free throws that were immediately answered by Renfroe, but the run really gained steam when Matthew Dotson nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut JU’s lead to one, 66-65, with 1:03 left.

Smith went to work again and hit a pull up jumper in the lane to push the lead back to three. After forcing a turnover, JU’s Tevin Galvin hit 1-of-2 from the free throw line and Keaton Belcher’s put back cut the Dolphin lead back to two, 69-67, with 10 seconds remaining.

Galvin was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play and missed both free throws, with Renfroe grabbing the rebounds and racing up the floor to tie the game with six seconds left.

But JU came right back and Smith hit a pair at the stripe with four seconds left, enough time for Renfroe to race up the floor with another layup to force overtime.

Smith led three Dolphins in double figures, getting 19 points from Lehmon Colbert along with 13 from Allen to go with his team-high nine rebounds.

Renfroe’s 38 led three Bruins, with Wicke getting 11 despite hitting just 4-of-17 from the floor. Shane Dansby added 10 for Belmont.

JU seemed like they were going to run away with the game early, pushing the lead in the first half to as many as 18 before taking a 40-29 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Dolphins hit 17-of-25 from the floor and the lead could have been bigger had JU shot better than 3-of-10 at the free throw line.

With the win, the Dolphins secured the No. 1 seed in next week’s A-Sun Tournament and a bye to the semifinals where they will face the winner of the Lipscomb-Campbell matchup on Thursday. More importantly, it guarantees JU its first trip to the postseason since 1987 as the Dolphins will receive an automatic bid to the National Invitation Tournament should they not win the tournament title.