OXFORD, Ohio - - Fighting through nightmarish shooting and foul trouble, Belmont men's basketball nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages, before falling at Miami (OH), 66-61, Saturday.
The Bruins opened the game in fine form, earning six straight defensive stops in holding the Redhawks scoreless for the opening 4:41.
A steal and coast-to-coast layin from senior Drew Hanlen (St. Louis, Mo.) gave Belmont a 6-0 lead.
But after a second chance three-pointer from Josh Sewell got Miami (OH) going, an interior basket from Drew McGhee capped a 9-0 Redhawk run and gave the hosts a three point lead.
Miami (OH)'s deliberate offensive attack, coupled with missed shots and periodic turnovers, hindered the Bruins from finding any rhythm early.
The lead seesawed back and forth, and when Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) scored a driving layin, the Bruins took a 17-16 lead with 6:52 left in the half.
But as Belmont interior shots rimmed off, Miami (OH) rode Sewell and Jon Harris on a 12-0 run to give the Redhawks a 28-17 lead with 4:20 left in the half.
In need of a spark, Belmont got four free throws from senior Scott Saunders (New Orleans, La.) and a baseline three-pointer from Johnson to get within 28-24.
Redshirt freshman Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) would provide two free throws with 0.3 seconds left to close the margin to 31-26 at halftime.
Belmont shot 36 percent (9-for-25) in the first half - including 4-for-12 from three-point distance.
Johnson trimmed the margin to 31-28 to open the second half, but Bruin fouls accumulated and in kind Redhawk free throw attempts. All told, Miami (OH) shot 23 free throws in the second half.
After Miami (OH) built a 40-31 lead, sophomore J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) scored back-to-back layins to get the Bruins within five with 14:54 left.
Trailing 44-37 with 11:37 left, Belmont head coach Rick Byrd asked for clarification of a jumpball call as the under 12 minute media timeout was being observed.
Moments later, Byrd received successive technical foul calls from two separate officials, and was ejected from the game.
Byrd proceeded to shake hands with Miami (OH) head coach Charlie Coles and walk to the locker room area.
Four three throws and a Drew McGhee layin later, and the Redhawks led 50-37 with 9:37 remaining.
But Belmont dug deep, and behind hustle plays and strong defense of its own, worked back into the game.
Eight points from Johnson and layins from redshirt junior Brandon Baker (Milford, Ohio) and Mann got Belmont within 54-51 with 5:15 to go.
After a Quinten Rollins jumpshot, junior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) sank a three-pointer to trim the margin to 56-54 with 4:04 left.
After redshirt sophomore Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) came up with a timely steal, Clark drove the lane in an attempt to tie the game. But his drive would be cut off by Sewell and the ball would be taken away.
Sewell then drove the lane and worked through several Bruin defenders to tip home his own miss and push the Miami (OH) lead back to four.
Clark responded with a huge steal and coast-to-coast layin to get the Bruins back within 58-56 with 2:17 remaining.
Following an empty Redhawk possession, Clark eyed a Bruin lead, but his straight-on three-pointer with 1:37 left rimmed off.
With the Redhawks laboring for offense aside from Mavunga free throws, Quinten Rollins sank a difficult floater late in the shot clock with 1:04 left to make the score 60-56. Senior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) was called for a foul attempting to draw a charge on the play.
After Rollins missed the subsequent free throw, Mann's clean three-point attempt to get Belmont within one went halfway down and popped out.
Two more Mavunga free throws pushed the margin to 62-56 with 48 seconds left.
The Bruins got within four twice more, but Mavunga secured the outcome from the charity stripe.
All told, Belmont shot 43 percent (21-for-49) - but just 6-for-21 from three-point distance.
Johnson led three Bruins in double figures with 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Mann added 13 points and six rebounds, while Clark scored 10.
Mavunga, who entered the game as one of only three players in the nation to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, was held to just 2-for-7 shooting. He led the Redhawks (3-5) with 17 points.
Belmont (7-4, 2-0 Atlantic Sun) returns to action Monday, Dec. 19 at Marshall. Tip-off is set for 6 pm CT.
The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network.