CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont University men's basketball got balanced scoring and a spirited comeback effort to defeat Austin Peay, 89-83, Saturday night, as head coach Rick Byrd earned career victory No. 700.
Belmont, which entered having dropped consecutive conference games for the first time in five years, looked to continue its recent success against the host Governors.
But after an early layin from junior Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.), Austin Peay got a basket from Ed Dyson to claim a 9-2 lead three and a half minutes in.
The Bruins shook off early misfortune and turnovers, getting two baskets from sophomore Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) and a three-pointer from sophomore Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.) to tie the score at 11.
Yet just as Belmont seemed to settle in, the Govs went on an 11-2 run. Despite averaging only five three-pointers per game, two triples from Khalil Davis and one from Josh Robinson stretched the Austin Peay lead to 25-15 at the 10:19 mark.
The huge momentum swings continued, as timely bench production from freshman Tyler Hadden (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Mack Mercer (Plymouth, Ind.) sparked a Bruin spurt. Consecutive three-pointers from juniors Jeff Laidig (Mishawaka, Ind.) and Bradshaw gave Belmont a 33-31 lead with 4:22 left in the half.
More strong play from Bradds and Barnette enabled Belmont to preserve a 38-37 lead at halftime.
Belmont shot 57 percent (16-for-28) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 5-for-11 from three-point distance. Belmont forced eight first-half turnovers.
Bradds opened the second half with two determined layins as Belmont and Austin Peay exchanged two ties and five lead changes in the first seven minutes of the second half.
It seemed every time the Bruins were poised to break free, Austin Peay had an answer.
Then, after two Ed Dyson free throws got the Govs within 52-51, Belmont would string together its best four minutes of conference play.
Passionate and purposeful on both ends, Bradshaw and Hadden combined to score 15 during an 18-4 Belmont run that made the score 70-55 with 8:41 left.
A sizable Bruin support section erupted in cheers as the Bruins turned strong defense and rebounding into offense.
After baskets from Chris Freeman and Chris Horton, freshman Austin Luke (Rowlett, Texas) made a timely baseline three-pointer to maintain a 73-59 lead with 6:54 remaining.
Both teams worked their way into the bonus early in the second half, so a procession to the free throw line ensued.
Two free throws from senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) gave Belmont an 82-70 lead with 3:49 left.
But two free throws and two putbacks in a 28 second span got Austin Peay within 82-76 with 2:54 remaining.
After two surprising free throw misses from Barnette, Horton made one free throw with 2:17 to go to inch the Govs within five.
In need of a basket, Barnette sank a clutch pullup jumper - after a great save from Bradshaw - to give Belmont an 84-77 lead with 1:09 left.
Belmont made five of six free throws in the final 30 seconds to secure the victory.
All told, Belmont shot 60 percent (34-for-57) from the field - including 10-for-22 from three-point distance.
Bradds led four Bruins in double figures with 22 points. Bradshaw had 20 points, six assists and three steals, while Barnette added 14. Hadden scored a career-high 13 points.
Horton led Austin Peay (6-12, 1-3 OVC) with 23 points.
Belmont (11-7, 3-2 OVC) returns to game action Thursday, Jan. 22 versus UT Martin. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center.
The game will be broadcast live on the OVC Digital Network. The live play-by-play can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network and 104.5 The Zone. In-game updates will be available on Twitter @BelmontMBB.
Byrd joins Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Bob Huggins, Roy Williams, Bo Ryan, and Rick Pitino as one of only seven active NCAA Division I head coaches with 700 career victories. Byrd is the only member from a non-power 5 conference.
NCAA Division I Head Coaches, Active
Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) 998
Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) 962
Bob Huggins (West Virginia) 755
Roy Williams (North Carolina) 737
Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) 720
Rick Pitino (Louisville) 710
Rick Byrd (Belmont) 700
NOTES: Belmont has won six straight meetings with Austin Peay ... Chamberlain had another complete game, with seven points, eight rebounds, eight assists and five steals ... Bradds entered third in the NCAA in field goal percentage (.659) and went 8-for-8 from the field ... Belmont outscored Austin Peay in bench production, 24-21 ... The Bruins had 11 steals ... Byrd becomes the 25th head coach in college basketball history with 700 or more victories (min. 10 seasons at NCAA Division I, courtesy NCAA Basketball Record Book).