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Heart of a Champion

Heart of a Champion

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - - Sophomore Nick Smith (Bentonville, Ark.) sank a three-pointer with 12 seconds remaining to cap a breathtaking comeback as Belmont men's basketball defeated Western Kentucky, 64-63, Saturday night.

It would be an inauspicious start for the Bruins, as Ben Lawson dunks sandwiched around a three-pointer from Chris Harrison-Docks gave Western Kentucky a 7-0 lead two minutes in.

Following a Coach Byrd timeout, Belmont answered with a slam from sophomore Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) and a three-pointer from junior Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.).

But consecutive baskets from T.J. Price pushed the Hilltopper lead to 14-5 4:52 in.

In need of an offensive boost, freshman Amanze Edgekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) scored six points in a 42 second span to get Belmont within 16-11.

Baskets from Bradds, sophomore Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.) and another Bradshaw three-pointer gave Belmont its first lead, 18-16, midway through the first half.

After a short jumper from sophomore Caleb Chowbay (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) at the 8:27 mark, the Bruins would endure a near five-minute scoreless spell.

A Justin Johnson slam gave WKU a 32-21 edge.

Another Harrison-Docks three-pointer sent the hosts to the halftime break with a 37-26 lead.

Belmont shot 32 percent (10-for-31) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including just 3-for-16 from three-point distance. 

Bradds and Bradshaw each had eight points at the break.

Belmont appeared poised to make an early second-half spurt, but the uncharacteristically cold shooting persisted.

Bradds continued to be relentless, scoring the Bruins' first nine points of the second half.

But a George Fant jumper and a Trency Jackson three-pointer extended Western Kentucky's lead to 45-30 with 17:33 left.

A Barnette three-pointer and two free throws from senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) got Belmont within 49-40 with 13:44 remaining, but the Hilltoppers seemingly had an answer at every turn.

Both teams bogged down midway through the half, as missed opportunities accumulated and a tractor pull ensued. 

Bradshaw scored before three-points from Harrison-Docks made the score 56-42 with 6:25 remaining.

Coach Byrd had tried every lineup and play call imaginable in search of an offensive surge.

But in truth, it wouldn't be anything pretty; the Bruins simply grinded and willed themselves back into the game.

Five points from Bradds and a steal and score from Chamberlain closed the margin to 56-49 with 4:29 left.

Following two Egekeze free throws, Aleksej Rostov would score along the baseline to increase Western Kentucky's lead to 60-51 with 3:07 remaining.

After some more strong defensive work, one Bradds free throw and a Bradshaw driving layin trimmed the margin to six with 2:35 to go.

Then after the Hilltoppers missed from the free throw line, Bradshaw buried a deep three-pointer to get the Bruins within 60-57 with 2:11 remaining.

Nervous energy was palpable in historic Diddle Arena, as Western Kentucky fans sat mystified at what was transpiring.

Following a Jackson missed jumper, Belmont freed Smith for his first basket of the game - a straight-on three-pointer to tie the score at 60 with 1:31 left.

On the next Hilltopper possession, Price missed a contested three-pointer. Bradds and Ben Lawson fought for the loose ball rebound, with officials calling a jump ball.

Belmont was awarded possession on the possession arrow.

From there, the Bruins worked the ball inside to Bradds, who would earn a trip to the free throw line on a determined post move.

Bradds made one of two free throws with 43 seconds left to give Belmont a 61-60 lead.

Following a WKU timeout, Price made an acrobatic baseline drive through contact with 22 seconds left. The conventional three-point play pushed the Hilltoppers ahead 63-61.

Belmont proceeded to push the ball into the frontcourt, freeing Smith in front of the Bruin bench for a wing three-pointer. The shot was nothing but net, as Belmont regained the lead, 64-63, with 12 seconds left.

On Western Kentucky's final possession, senior Holden Mobley (Nashville, Tenn.) deflected a pass out of bounds with five seconds left, before Price had a contested 17-footer rim off as the buzzer sounded.

All told, Belmont shot 37 percent (22-for-59) from the field - including 9-for-33 from three-point distance. The Bruins made their final three shots from behind the arc.

Belmont scored 17 points off 16 WKU turnovers.

Bradds scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Bradshaw had 15 points and six rebounds.

Harrison-Docks led Western Kentucky with 21 points.

Belmont (3-1) returns to action Monday, Nov. 24 versus Lipscomb. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center.

The game will be broadcast live on the OVC Digital Network. The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network. In-game updates will be available on Twitter @BelmontMBB.

NOTES: Belmont trailed by 14 with 6:25 left ... Chamberlain had eight assists and four steals ... Egekeze scored a career-high eight points ... Bradshaw has scored in double figures in 33 of his last 39 games.