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Fast Start, Gutsy Finish as Men's Basketball Defeats Green Bay in Postseason NIT First Round

Fast Start, Gutsy Finish as Men's Basketball Defeats Green Bay in Postseason NIT First Round

GREEN BAY, Wis. - - Belmont University men's basketball defeated Horizon League Champion Green Bay, 80-65, in the first round of the 2014 Postseason NIT Tuesday.

The Bruins entered 10 days separated from a stinging loss to Eastern Kentucky in the OVC Championship. But a fifth consecutive conference regular season championship earned Belmont entry into the Postseason NIT, and a date with the formidable Phoenix.

Green Bay boasted a talented and experienced roster that earned victories over Virginia and Tulsa in the non-conference and ran through the Horizon League. But a setback in the conference tournament semifinal round led the Phoenix to the Postseason NIT.

The Bruins got off to a positive start, as consecutive three-pointers from sophomore Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.) and senior Drew Windler (South Milwaukee, Wis.) gave Belmont an early 12-9 lead.

Two more three-pointers from Bradshaw pushed the advantage to 24-14 with 10:58 left in the half.

The Bruins used active defense to fuel offensive opportunities. A Windler slam and a putback basket from freshman Nick Smith (Bentonville, Ark.) capped a 16-3 Belmont run and made the score 28-14 with 9:47 left in the half.

Belmont used more strong team defense and unselfish offense to maintain a double figure lead, until Jordan Fouse capped a Phoenix spurt to get the hosts within 37-33 with 2:46 left in the half.

Senior J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) answered with a deep wing three-pointer and followed with an assist to junior Spencer Turner (Bloomington, Ind.) on another trey as the Bruins extended the lead back to 45-35 with 57 seconds left in the half.

A Mann steal and score right before the first half buzzer gave Belmont a 49-37 lead at halftime.

Belmont shot 54 percent (19-for-35) from the field in the opening 20 minutes – including 6-for-16 from three-point distance. The Bruins forced 14 Green Bay turnovers in the first half.

Bradshaw led Belmont with 17 first half points.

Windler and Bradshaw combined on the Bruins' first nine points of the second half as the lead grew to 58-39 with 16:05 remaining.

But Bruin foul trouble mounted, and the Phoenix slowly worked back into the game.

A Kenneth Lowe basket made the score 60-50 with 10:27 left.

Belmont continued to work for high percentage shots, but endured a cold spell midway through the second half. Nevertheless, strong work defensively and on the backboards kept a solid working margin.

After one free throw from freshman Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) bumped the lead back to 10, Turner buried a clutch three-pointer late in the shot clock to give the Bruins a 69-56 lead with 4:04 left.

Then after two baskets from Brown got Green Bay within nine, Turner once again ripped the nets from behind the arc to push the Belmont edge to 72-60 with 2:51 left.

Green Bay got within 72-65 on a free throw from Fouse with 1:56 to go, but Windler delivered another three-pointer from in front of the Bruin bench to make the margin 10 with 1:25 remaining.

The Bruins scored the final eight points of the game.

All told, Belmont shot 48 percent (28-for-59) from the field – including 10-for-29 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded Green Bay, 33-28, and forced 21 Phoenix turnovers.

Bradshaw led three Bruins in double figures with a career-high 25 points and six rebounds. Windler added 15 points and seven rebounds, while Mann scored 11.

Turner tied a career-high with nine points, while Chamberlain added eight assists.

Greg Mays led Green Bay (24-7) with 15 points.

Belmont (25-9) returns to game action Friday, March 21 versus Robert Morris in the second round of the Postseason NIT. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center.

The game will be televised 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.

NOTES: This marks Belmont's second NCAA era postseason victory; the Bruins defeated Evansville, 92-76, in the 2009 Postseason Tournament … The second round game versus Robert Morris will be the program's first NCAA era postseason home game … Belmont (57) and Green Bay (58) entered play with top 60 rankings in the RPI … Green Bay leading scorer and Horizon League Player of the Year Keifer Sykes did not play due to injury.