BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - - Belmont University men's basketball defeated Fairfield, 73-61, Saturday afternoon.
The Bruins welcomed back OVC leading scorer Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.) after missing the previous three games. Meanwhile, Fairfield played a game for the first time in 13 days.
However, it was a strange start for Belmont, as the Stags scored the first seven points of the game.
After a Rick Byrd timeout, Senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) got Belmont on the board at the 15:26 mark with a driving layin, whie freshman Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) added a three-pointer moments later.
Sophomore Nick Smith (Bentonville, Ark.) would give the Bruins a brief lead, before five unanswered points from reserve forward Kevin Degnan pushed Fairfield back ahead 15-11.
The Degnan points were somewhat off the radar as he had scored only four points total in the Stags' first nine games.
But undeterred, the Bruins ripped off 10 straight points, capped by a three-pointer from sophomore Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.).
Belmont had settled in, but Fairfield offensive rebounds and second chance points gave the Stags some momentum.
While Bradshaw and sophomore Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) did not score in the opening 20 minutes on a combined one field goal attempt, Smith and freshman Tyler Hadden (Cincinnati, Ohio) helped Belmont take a 29-27 halftime lead.
Belmont shot 40 percent (10-for-25) in the first half - including 5-for-15 from three-point distance.
Strong play from Bradds and Egekeze sparked the Bruins to a 12-3 run out of the locker room as the lead grew to 41-30.
But Fairfield leading scorer Marcus Gilbert, who Belmont admirably held scoreless for the opening 25 minutes of the game, erupted for 12 points in a two and a half minute stretch as the Stags closed to within 45-43 with 12:26 left.
The Bruins responded, as a Bradds conventional three-point play, and baskets from Smith and Bradshaw pushed the Belmont lead back to nine with 10:57 remaining.
Belmont got more uptempo, end-to-end play in the second half, in large part through stringing together defensive stops.
One free throw from Steve Johnston got Fairfield within 56-54 with 6:36 to go, but a short jumper from Egekeze and a driving basket from Barnette pushed the Bruin advantage back to six.
After Amadou Sidibe got the Stags within four, Bradshaw would have a hand in a decisive 6-0 Belmont run; first setting up Hadden for an easy two, before scoring two straight baskets on his own.
The Bruins led 66-56 with 3:08 left, and would go 7-for-8 from the free throw line in the final 1:56 to secure the victory.
All told, Belmont shot 51 percent (27-for-53) from the field - including 6-for-20 from three-point distance. Belmont outrebounded Fairfield, 39-36, and was plus-nine on the glass in the second half.
Bradshaw led four Bruins in double figures with 15 points, all in the second half. Bradds had 13 second half points, while Smith added 12 and Egekeze 11.
Hadden had a career-high nine points and Chamberlain provided six points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Gilbert led Fairfield (4-6) with 18 points.
Belmont (8-4) returns to game action following the Christmas holiday Sunday, Dec. 28 at Butler. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. CT from historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1.