NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont men's basketball defeated Marshall, 79-74, Thursday night to extend its home court win streak to 22 games.
The Bruins exacted a bit of revenge upon the visiting Thundering Herd, as Marshall outlasted Belmont 87-86 Dec. 19 when a Bruin layin attempt rolled off the rim at the buzzer.
While the first meeting 10 days ago was characterized by end-to-end action, the game began with heaping helpings of physical halfcourt play.
Though Belmont trailed only 2-0, this game would again feature a roller-coaster of emotions and momentum swings.
Tied at 14 midway through the first half, Belmont sophomore J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) capped a 13-1 Bruin run to give Belmont a 27-15 lead with 5:14 left in the half.
A Dago Pena three-pointer got Marshall within 31-23, before baskets from Mann, senior Drew Hanlen (St. Louis, Mo.) and senior Scott Saunders (New Orleans, La.) pushed the Bruins to a 37-25 lead at halftime.
Belmont shot 43 percent (15-for-35) in the first half - including 3-for-11 from three-point distance. Moreover, the Bruins held Marshall to 9-for-30 shooting while forcing seven turnovers. 10 second chance points in the opening 20 minutes kept the Thundering Herd within striking distance.
Junior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) sat out the last 6:08 of the first half, nursing two personal fouls.
After playing one of its best defensive halves in recent memory and establishing an interior scoring presence with Saunders, Belmont seemed poised to build upon its solid lead.
But Marshall had other ideas. Forceful drives from DeAndre Kane and four Bruin turnovers enabled the Thundering Herd to get back into the game.
A steal and dunk from Shaquille Johnson capped an 11-0 Marshall run to open the second half and got the visitors within 37-36 with 17:47 left.
While the previously boisterous Curb Event Center crowd was momentarily shell-shocked, Saunders delivered a conventional three-point play to stem the tide.
After two Kane free throws made the score 40-38 with 17:15 left, Belmont proceeded to hold Marshall scoreless for the next 6:45 as part of the most determined run of the season.
Junior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) and Clark combined on 10 points to give the Bruins a 50-38 lead with 12:18 remaining.
After two more defensive stops, Saunders tacked on four more points to push the lead to 16, 54-38, with 10:47 left.
Behind solid free throw shooting and strong play from Saunders, the Bruins maintained a double figure lead until Damier Pitts' basket got Marshall within 72-64 with 2:01 left.
Belmont broke Thundering Herd pressure, and Saunders capitalized on a conventional three-point play with 1:45 left to give the Bruins a 75-64 advantage.
Again, the Bruins were in control and armed with an experienced backcourt; but that's when things got downright bizarre.
Two Kane free throws cut the margin to nine, before Jamir Hammer erased a potential Clark layin with an astounding weakside blocked shot.
Seconds later, Pitts buried a three-pointer to get Marshall within 75-69 with 1:20 left.
Marshall would press and proceed to foul senior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) with 1:17 to. Hedgepeth would miss both free throw attempts, and Marshall secured the rebound.
Pitts then would make another deep three-pointer to close the Thundering Herd within 75-72 with 1:03 left.
Following a Johnson missed floater, Marshall called timeout with possession with 38 seconds to go.
Looking for a potential game-tying three-pointer, Marshall turned to Pena, who missed contested baseline three-pointer with 28 seconds remaining.
Hedgepeth grabbed the rebound for Belmont and would be fouled. He made both free throws to give the Bruins a 77-72 lead with 22 seconds left.
Belmont then defended Marshall well, forcing pressured passes and two missed shots before Pena scored with three seconds left to cut the margin to three.
Redshirt junior Brandon Baker (Milford, Ohio) made two free throws with under two seconds left to provide the final margin.
All told, Belmont shot 44 percent (26-for-59) from the field - including a season-low 4-for-12 from three-point distance. The Bruins went 23-for-33 from the free throw line and forced 16 turnovers.
Saunders continued his fine play with a team-high 23 points and nine rebounds. Johnson added 16 points and five assists.
Kane led Marshall (9-3) with 25 points.
The Bruins extend their home court win streak to 22 games - the eighth-longest active streak in the nation.
Belmont (9-5, 2-0 Atlantic Sun) returns to action Monday, Jan. 2 at North Florida. Tip-off is set for 6:45 p.m. CT.
The live play-by-play can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network. Live video streaming will be available via ASun.TV.