NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Behind 28 points from junior Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.) and stingy team defense, Belmont University men's basketball defeated Denver, 78-57, Wednesday afternoon.
Fresh in mind for the Bruins was last season's stinging setback at Denver, and the team looked to atone in all facets.
A floater from Bradshaw and two free throws from senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) got the Bruins off to a 4-0 start.
But perhaps more importantly, Belmont showcased tough, unified team defense against the Pioneers' Princeton-style offense, getting stops on five of Denver's first six possessions.
A three-pointer from sophomore Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.) increased the lead to 9-2 five minutes in.
After five points from Bradshaw, Barnette sank another three-pointer in transition to stretch the margin to 17-4 at the 12:57 mark.
The lead swelled to 23-7 on one Bradshaw free throw before Nate Engesser made a three-pointer for the visitors.
In fact, Engesser would be the lone Denver player to score in the final 12:34 of the half.
Denver swingman Cam Griffin was called for his third personal foul midway through the half, as Bradshaw took a charge on the baseline drive.
Two free throws from freshman Tyler Hadden (Cincinnati, Ohio) increased the lead to 27-10.
After another defensive stop, Chamberlain delivered a slick behind-the-back pass to freshman Josh Lester (Antioch, Tenn.) for an easy layin and a 32-13 advantage.
Belmont led 34-16 at halftime.
The Bruins held Denver to five first half field goals while forcing the Pioneers into 10 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, Belmont shot just 32 percent (8-for-32) from the field in the first half, but did go 14-for-16 from the free throw line.
A reverse layin from sophomore Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) made the score 36-16 with 18:57 remaining.
Denver got within 36-25 with 16:52 left on a Cam Griffin slam, but Bradshaw answered with six consecutive points.
Belmont exhibited good offensive patience, but was unable to break free in large part to the shooting of Engesser. The Denver junior would go 5-for-5 from behind the arc in the second half to keep the Pioneers within distance.
But each time, Bradshaw had a response, as a fast break slam and a straight-on three-pointer pushed the margin back to 59-42 with 8:36 left.
Denver got no closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
Belmont closed the game on a 17-7 run.
All told, Belmont shot 41 percent (20-for-49) from the field - including 9-for-24 from three-point distance. The Bruins also went 29-for-32 from the free throw line.
Belmont forced 17 Denver turnovers; the Pioneers averaged fewer than 10 turnovers per game last season.
Bradshaw led Belmont with 28 points and four rebounds. Barnette added 21 points. Bradds led Belmont with eight rebounds.
Engesser led Denver (2-2) with 26 points.
Belmont (5-1) returns to game action following the Thanksgiving holiday Saturday, Nov. 29 at Ohio.
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. In-game updates will be available on Twitter @BelmontMBB.
NOTES: Belmont has now won 58 of its last 60 home games ... Bradshaw has scored 57 points in his last two games ... After missing 17 free throws against Lipscomb, Belmont only missed three free throws on 32 attempts ... All 15 Bruins played ... Caleb Chowbay continued his fine play with six points, three rebounds, and three assists ... Freshmen Tyler Hadden, Josh Lester, Austin Luke, and Mack Mercer each scored two ... Engesser tied the Curb Event Center visiting record with seven made three-point field goals.