NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Behind a game-high 22 points from senior All-America candidate Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio), Belmont University men's basketball defeated Tennessee State, 68-63, Saturday night.
Bradds established a Curb Event Center single-game record with a perfect 10-for-10 performance from the field, appropriate for the player who led in the nation in field goal percentage each of the last two seasons in his final home game.
The Bruins staved off a spirited effort from the visiting Tigers before a near capacity crowd for Belmont Homecoming and Senior Day.
A vast departure from the record-setting 103-95 contest last season, this edition would be an intense, halfcourt affair.
It took Belmont nearly four minutes to make its first basket - a Bradds layin - as both teams showcased purposeful defense.
Bradds picked up his second personal foul midway through the first half, and though Belmont worked its trademark offense, momentum stifled as clean looks rimmed off.
Meanwhile, Tennessee State got a boost off the bench from Ken'Darrius Hamilton, as his nine first half points gave the Tigers a 23-17 lead at the 4:07 mark.
Belmont's defense held strong, keeping the Bruins within 27-26 at haftime.
Belmont shot 32 percent (7-for-22) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 3-for-16 from 3-point distance. Belmont outrebounded Tennessee State, 19-15, but nine first half turnovers hurt the cause.
Three straight Bradds baskets to open the second half gave Belmont a 32-31 lead with 14:20 to go.
Then after 25 minutes of methodical, tractor-pull style basketball, suddenly on a dime, the game opened up.
But Tennessee State answered with an 11-2 run, taking a 46-45 lead on a Hamilton basket.
The end-to-end burst of action faded away, and the game returned to fiercely-contested halfcourt battles.
Barnette delivered a twisting, baseline 3-pointer with 5:28 left to put Belmont on top 50-47.
Wayne Martin would rim home a 3-pointer of his own on the Tigers' next posession.
An Egekeze 3, a Bradds basket, and two Barnette free throws would account for a timely 7-0 Belmont run to give the Bruins a 57-52 lead with 2:21 left.
After an exchange of free throws with Belmont holding on to a one possession lead, junior Austin Luke (Rowlett, Texas) sank a clutch 3-pointer with 1:14 left to give Belmont a 62-56 lead.
Martin would score inside before Luke sank two free throws to preserve the six-point Belmont edge with 35 seconds left.
Moments later, Tajhere McCall would complete a conventional 3-point play to trim the margin in half with 30 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, Bradds would collide with a Tiger defender, allowing McCall to come up with a steal. Though McCall would miss a contested driving layin, sophomore Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.) would be whistled for a loose ball foul battling for the rebound.
Though a non-shooting foul, Tennessee State would earn free throws seconds later as Windler was called for a foul attempting to steal a Tiger inbounds pass.
Darreon Reddick made two free throws with 23 seconds left to cut the Belmont lead to one.
Belmont handled Tennessee State pressure defense, as Luke was fouled with 15 seconds remaining.
He calmly made both ends of the one-and-one free throws to push the lead back to three.
McCall's potential game-tying 3-point attempt with five seconds left missed, and Bradds secured the victory from the free throw line.
All told, Belmont shot 44 percent (20-for-45) from the field - including 57 percent in the second half.
Bradds led four Bruins in double figures with 22 points. Egekeze had 15 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals. Barnette had 13, and Luke 11.
Martin led Tennessee State (17-12, 8-8 OVC) with 20 points.
Belmont (22-5, 15-1 OVC) returns to game action Friday, March 3 in the semifinal round of the OVC Tournament. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU and the WatchESPN app. The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network and 104.5 The Zone. In-game updates will be available via Twitter @BelmontMBB.
NOTES: Belmont honored Bradds, Barnette, Nick Smith and Josh Lester prior to the game ... Belmont has won 18 of its last 19 games and is 39-1 all-time in OVC home games ... With 22 points, Bradds is within 40 points of Ian Clark ('13) for the Belmont NCAA Division I era scoring mark ... Bradds has 1,880 career points ... Belmont has won 16 conference championships (nine regular season, seven tournament) since 2006, only Kansas and Gonzaga have won more over that span.