Not a One Trick Pony

Not a One Trick Pony

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont University men's basketball defeated SIU Edwardsville, 73-69, Wednesday night.

The game featured two of the most exciting, uptempo teams in the OVC, characterized by strong guards and unselfish play.

Belmont was six days separated from its victory over Southeast Missouri, while SIU Edwardsville entered on a five-game winning streak - the longest in its NCAA Division I history.

Perhaps the arctic air that brought near record-low temperatures to the Music City snuck into the Curb Event Center, as the Bruins battled through an unusually cold shooting night from behind the arc.

Five straight points from C.J. Carr gave the Cougars a 16-10 lead six and a half minutes in.

After a three-pointer from sophomore Nick Smith (Bentonville, Ark.) and a conventional three-point play from freshman Mack Mercer (Plymouth, Ind.), two straight three-pointers from Jake Newton gave SIU Edwardsville a 25-16 lead midway through the first half.

As the Cougars found the range early, Belmont got high percentage, in-rhythm looks but were unable to find the range.

However, Belmont finally answered back with a 10-0 run, capped by explosive transition baskets from sophomore Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.) and junior Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.). 

Bradshaw would score Belmont's final 10 points of the first half, but SIU Edwardsville led 38-36 at halftime.

Belmont shot 48 percent (12-for-25) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 2-for-11 from three-point distance. 

Bradshaw led Belmont with 16 first half points.

Senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) sank a baseline three-pointer to give Belmont a 39-38 lead with 18:56 remaining.

But in a game featuring a remarkable 17 ties and 18 lead changes, neither team would lead by more than one possession for the first 13 minutes of the second half.

Bradds would catch fire inside, scoring five straight baskets to give Belmont a 52-50 lead with 14:49 left.

Mercer continued his inspired play off the bench, delivering a strong driving basket to make the score 56-54 with 12:23 to go.

In addition, with Chamberlain nursing foul trouble, freshman Austin Luke (Rowlett, Texas) gave steady minutes when called upon.

Two Kris Davis free throws and a Keaton Jackson slam gave SIU Edwardsville a 63-60 edge with 7:58 remaining. 

Then after a Bradshaw jumper, Newton again sank a three-pointer to increase the Cougar lead to four with 7:26 left.

From there, the Bruins truly buckled down, holding SIU Edwardsville scoreless over the next 4:50.

Baskets from Bradshaw and Bradds and two free throws gave Belmont a 68-66 lead with 2:54 left.

A Jackson tip-in tied the score with 2:36 remaining, but it would be the Cougars' final field goal of the game.

Bradds answered back with a layin off a timely feed from Bradshaw to put the Bruins ahead 70-68.

Belmont made things interesting in the final 90 seconds, as three missed free throws gave the Cougars a bit of a reprieve.

But after one Rozell Nunn free throw got SIU Edwardsville within 71-69 with 46 seconds left, Belmont turned to Bradshaw, who worked the shot clock and eventually found Egekeze at the door step.

Egekeze was fouled on his slam dunk attempt with 14 seconds left, and proceeded to calmly sink both free throws to extend to a two-possession game.

All told, Belmont shot 49 percent (25-for-51) from the field - including 4-for-19 from three-point distance. The Bruins went 19-for-25 from the free throw line, and limited the Cougars to 39 percent shooting.

Bradshaw led Belmont with 26 points and six assists, while Bradds added his second career double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Nunn led SIU Edwardsville (6-8, 2-1 OVC) with 15 points.

Belmont (10-5, 2-0 OVC) returns to game action Saturday, Jan. 10 at Eastern Illinois. Tip-off is set for 3:15 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. In-game updates will be available on Twitter @BelmontMBB.

NOTES: Mercer scored a career-high seven points ... Egekeze had seven points, four rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals ... Belmont outscored SIU Edwardsville in the paint, 36-26 ... Belmont has won 74 of its last 82 conference games (NCAA best).