NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont University men's basketball defeated Middle Tennessee, 63-59, Tuesday night.
Belmont entered riding the red-hot shooting of junior Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.), who was named National Player of the Week Monday behind his 42-point performance Saturday night in victory at Ohio.
Both the Bruins and Blue Raiders find themselves adjusting to life after the departure of conference players of the year - J.J. Mann for Belmont and Shawn Jones for Middle Tennessee.
The game began in sluggish fashion, with neither team scoring in the opening 2:49.
Consecutive three-pointers from Bradshaw and sophomore Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.) capped an 8-0 Bruin run to give Belmont an 11-5 lead.
The run continued as freshman Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) buried a wing three-pointer to extend the lead to 18-9 midway through the first half.
After Marcus Tarrence got Middle Tennessee within three, consecutive three-pointers from Bradshaw and Egekeze pushed Belmont to a 30-20 edge with 3:49 left in the half.
Four straight Bradshaw free throws gave Belmont a 36-26 lead at halftime.
Belmont shot 48 percent (12-for-25) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 6-for-11 from three-point distance. The Bruins forced 10 first half turnovers.
The Bruins staved off a quick Blue Raider burst, getting 12 points from sophomore Nick Smith (Bentonville, Ark.) in the first seven minutes of the second half. A Smith three-pointer gave Belmont a 50-34 lead with 12:46 left.
The Bruins nearly added more, but a Smith transition layin attempt was blocked by Reggie Upshaw. A subsequent conventional three-point play from DJ Jones sparked Middle Tennessee.
Despite a wing three-pointer from Barnette, Jaqawn Raymond capped a 15-3 Blue Raider run with a baseline three-pointer to get the visitors within 53-49 with 8:48 remaining.
After three Belmont free throws, Upshaw would bank home a desperation three-pointer to inch Middle Tennessee within 56-55 with 4:52 to go.
As both teams continued to clamp down defensively, a free throw shooting contest would ensue.
The Bruins nearly extended back to a five point advantage with 2:30 left, but Barnette's three-pointer dipped out.
Fouled along the baseline, Tarrance had a chance to tie the game with 1:21 left, but he would make only one of two free throw attempts.
On the next Belmont possession, Bradds would score one of the biggest baskets of his young career, a reverse layin along the baseline to increase the Bruin lead to 60-57 with 1:03 remaining.
Upshaw would then miss from three-point distance and Smith secured the rebound.
Two free throws from senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) gave Belmont a 62-57 lead with 22 seconds left.
A Jacquez Rozier slam and one Barnette free throw provided the final scoring.
All told, Belmont shot 38 percent (19-for-50) from the field - including 9-for-20 from three-point distance. Belmont handed out 16 assists on 19 made field goals, while forcing 17 Middle Tennessee turnovers.
Smith and Bradds led three Bruins in double figures with 15 points each. Bradshaw added 14.
Tarrance led Middle Tennessee (3-4) with 14 points.
Belmont is off for semester exams, returning to game action Tuesday, Dec. 9 versus Evansville.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT. 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 and 104.5 The Zone. In-game updates will be available on Twitter @BelmontMBB.
NOTES: Bradshaw has scored in double figures in 36 of his last 42 games ... Chamberlain continued his fine all-around play, with five points, seven rebounds, and five assists ... Egekeze has scored in all eight games this season ... Belmont outscored Middle Tennessee, 20-16, in the paint ... Belmont outscored Middle Tennessee, 31-5, off turnovers ... After going 5-for-42 from three-point distance to open the season, Middle Tennessee went a season-best 10-for-23 from behind the arc ... Belmont has won 59 of its last 61 home games.