SPARTANBURG, S.C. - - Torrey Craig's offensive rebound putback with 0.7 seconds remaining gave USC Upstate a 79-78 victory over Belmont men's basketball Saturday.
The game was a physical, halfcourt affair early, with the Bruins taking a 10-4 lead five minutes in on a three-pointer from sophomore J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.).
Belmont continued its fine pressure defense, and proceeded to establish an inside presence. Three straight baskets from senior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) gave Belmont a 21-9 lead with 7:30 left in the half.
The Bruin bench also chipped in, as four points from junior Trevor Noack (Keller, Texas) stretched the lead to 25-11 with 5:33 left.
USC Upstate was limited to four made field goals in the first 17 minutes of the game, before three-pointers from Mario Blessing and Craig got the Spartans within 34-25.
Belmont closed the half on a 9-2 run, as junior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) sank a short jumper to send the Bruins to the locker room up 43-27.
The Bruins shot 56 percent (15-for-27) from the field in the first half - including 4-for-9 from three-point distance. Belmont also forced 11 turnovers and limited the active Spartans to only two first half offensive rebounds.
The second half started inauspiciously for Belmont as three Spartan baskets and two empty trips trimmed the margin to 43-33 less than 90 seconds into the half.
Following a Belmont timeout, redshirt sophomore Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) scored in transition to stop the Bruin drought.
Two more fast break layins from Noack reasserted the Belmont lead to 49-36 with 16:36 left.
But Craig and his Spartan teammates were warming up. A Ty Greene leaner capped a 9-0 Spartan run to make the score 49-45 with 13:55 left.
All the while, Bruin fouls piled up, with Clark, Saunders and junior Brandon Baker (Milford, Ohio) all mired in foul trouble.
A Jodd Maxey three-point play got the Spartans within one, before Clark answered with a three-pointer to give Belmont a 56-52 lead with 12:08 to go.
After a few defensive stops, a Hedgepeth layin and one Johnson free throw increased the lead to 61-53 with 9:34 left.
Following a Greene three-point play, redshirt freshman Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) would sink a baseline three-pointer to keep the Bruins up eight, 66-58, with 8:14 to go.
But again, Craig and the Spartan frontline players would find success. A Babatunde Olumuyiwa layin got USC Upstate within 70-68 with 4:20 left.
Leading by just one with under three minutes left, Mann would make a clutch wing three-pointer to push the lead back to four.
The Bruins got possession up four with just over two minutes left, but a driving attempt by Hedgepeth went by the boards, leading to a Maxey dunk with 2:03 left to cut the lead in half.
Johnson replied with a tough driving layin to give the Bruins a 78-74 edge with 1:50 left.
But in need of another defensive stop, Craig made a deep wing three-pointer to get the Spartans within one with 1:33 to go.
On its next possession, the Bruins would get a clean look for Mann, who missed a baseline three-pointer. Hedgepeth grabbed a key offensive rebound to give Belmont another possession. Working clock, Belmont freed Clark, who would rim out a baseline three-pointer with 31 seconds to go.
USC Upstate grabbed the rebound, worked into the front court, and called timeout with 14 seconds left.
Craig was surely the intended target of USC Upstate the final possession, but Belmont did well to deny him the ball on the wing.
With the clock winding down, Adrian Rodgers drove the lane and attempted an off-balance 15 footer with senior Drew Hanlen (St. Louis, Mo.) defending well and perhaps getting a partial deflection.
Rodgers shot rimmed off with four seconds left, but Craig skied in the lane for the offensive rebound and made a short shot in the lane with 0.7 seconds left to give USC Upstate its first lead since 3-2.
Belmont's final pass downcourt was tipped away as the horn sounded.
Belmont shot 48 percent (27-for-56) from the field - including 7-for-19 from three-point distance. But defense was the story in the second half, as USC Upstate shot 60 percent after halftime and grabbed eight offensive rebounds.
Johnson led three Bruins in double figures with 18 points and eight assists. Hedgepeth had 16 points and seven rebounds.
Craig scored 22 points for USC Upstate (11-9, 5-3 Atlantic Sun) - 17 in the second half.
Belmont (13-7, 6-2 Atlantic Sun) returns to action Monday, Jan. 23 at ETSU. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. CT.
The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network. Live video streaming will be available via ASun.TV.