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Tough Night

Tough Night

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont University men's basketball dropped a 65-62 decision to Evansville Tuesday night.

The Bruins knew they were facing a stern test in the Purple Aces of the Missouri Valley Conference, an efficient team which entered play second in the nation in field goal percentage and fourth in assists per game.

While Belmont got off to fast starts in each of its last four games, the Bruins started slowly on this evening.

Five points from D.J. Balentine gave Evansville a 10-3 lead 2:36 into the game.

But two three-pointers from freshman Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) got Belmont within 15-13 at the 12:17 mark.

A three-pointer from sophomore Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.) and two free throws from sophomore Nick Smith (Bentonville, Ark.) propelled the Bruins to an 18-17 lead midway through the half.

A second personal foul on Evansville center Egidijus Mockevicius enabled Belmont to continue to attack from all angles. Likewise, Barnette would be limited due to fouls.

A three-pointer from Smith and a bank shot from senior Spencer Turner (Bloomington, Ind.) stretched the lead to 25-20 with 7:36 left in the half.

The Bruins continued to get balanced production, as a transition three-pointer from Turner made the score 35-25 at the 3:17 mark.

The Bruins led 37-29 at halftime.

Belmont shot 43 percent (12-for-28) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 7-for-14 from three-point distance. The Bruins forced 10 first half turnovers against a Purple Aces squad that averages only 11 turnovers per game.

Egekeze led Belmont with 11 first half points.

But a disjointed start to the second half allowed the visitors to gain their bearings.

A turnover and a Mockevicius layin prompted a timeout from Belmont head coach Rick Byrd just 23 seconds into the second half.

After a layin from sophomore Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) momentarily got Belmont back on track, but consecutive Evansville scores prompted a second Coach Byrd timeout less than two minutes into the second half.

The veteran coach implored his team to focus and lock in on both ends, and the Bruins responded.

A Barnette layin and a Turner three-pointer gave Belmont a 44-40 lead with 16:05 remaining.

But Balentine would cap an 8-0 Evansville run with a driving layin to give the Purple Aces a 48-44 edge with 12:15 left.

The Bruins were just off - missing a number of point blank shots and putback attempts, while also venturing out of the scope of the halfcourt offense.

A Turner layin got Belmont within two, 50-48, and after a defensive stop, the Bruins looked poised to tie the score as freshman Austin Luke (Rowlett, Texas) found Smith in stride in transition. But Smith's dunk attempt rimmed off.

Evansville would answer with one Mockevicius free throw and a Balentine short jumper.

Smith would bounce back, burying consecutive three-pointers to get Belmont within 56-54 with 3:12 left.

Mockevicius answered with a post layin on the next Evansville possession to push the margin back to four.

After Chamberlain missed a driving layin attempt, Belmont would be whistled for a technical foul with 2:18 remaining.

Balentine would sink two free throws to make the score 60-54.

The Bruins would get a defensive stop and free Barnette for a clean look from behind the arc, but his shot rimmed off.

Two more Mockevicius free throws made it an eight-point game with 1:38 left.

After an Egekeze basket and one Evansville free throw, Turner missed a deep three-pointer with 55 seconds left.

Then following an Evansville mishandle, Chamberlain would be fouled flagrantly by Mislav Brzoja in the open court with 42 seconds left.

With Chamberlain unable to shoot, sophomore Caleb Chowbay (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) made one free throw to get Belmont within six points.

Bradds would then add a driving layin to make the score 63-59.

Two more Evansville free throws and a Chowbay three-pointer provided the final margin.

All told, Belmont shot 37 percent (22-for-60) from the field - including 11-for-31 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded Evansville, 34-33, and forced 17 turnovers.

Egekeze and Bradds led four Bruins in double figures with 13 points each.

Smith scored 11, while Turner added 10.

Chamberlain had a career-high 14 rebounds and eight assists.

Balentine, who entered on a 20 point average, scored 25 to lead Evansville (7-1).

Belmont (7-2) returns to game action Thursday, Dec. 11 versus Wright State. 

Tip-off is set for 6 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 played without OVC leading scorer Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.) ... Belmont entered having won 59 of its last 61 home games ... Egekeze and Turner had new career-highs in scoring.