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Stairway to Evan

Stairway to Evan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont University men's basketball used guts and heart rather than its trademark shooting to outlast UT Martin, 72-67, Thursday night.

Upstart UT Martin under first year head coach Heath Schroyer entered the evening with three more victories than its entire 2013-14 total. 

The Skyhawks strong guard play showed itself from the outset as an Alex Anderson drive gave the visitors an early 4-0 lead.

Sophomore Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) ended the Belmont 2:23 drought to open the game, and junior Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.) added a deep three-pointer to give the Bruins the lead.

A short jumper from Bradds and another Bradshaw three-pointer increased the Belmont lead to 15-9 at the 11:43 mark.

After Twymond Howard tied the score at 16, a three-pointer from senior Spencer Turner (Bloomington, Ind.) and another Bradds basket gave the Bruins a 21-16 lead with 6:43 left in the half.

But from there, Belmont would go nearly six minutes without scoring, giving UT Martin an opportunity to turn the tables.

A basket from reserve Richard Lee capped a 16-0 Skyhawk run that gave UT Martin a 32-21 advantage with 1:54 remaining in the half.

Two Bradshaw free throws got Belmont within 32-23 at halftime.

Belmont shot 32 percent (8-for-25) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including just 4-for-16 from three-point distance. The Bruins did force nine Skyhawk turnovers in the first half.

Undeterred from its frigid first half, Belmont scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half. A steal and layin from senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) and another Bradds score got the Bruins within 34-33 with 15:31 remaining.

Moreover, with UT Martin frontcourt players Chandler Rowe and Javier Martinez in foul trouble, and the Skyhawks sporting four of the OVC leaders in minutes played, Belmont systematically brought extended pressure to change the tenor of the game.

But the visitors were having nothing of it.

Baskets from Marshun Newell and Deville Smith around a three-pointer from Richard Lee pushed the Skyhawks back to a 41-33 edge.

After Chamberlain answered with a three of his own, a Smith triple gave UT Martin a 49-38 lead with 10:56 remaining.

With OVC leading scorer Bradshaw nursing three fouls and the early half momentum extinguished, Belmont got huge lifts from unlikely sources.

Freshman Burton Sampson (Knoxville, Tenn.) buried a baseline three-pointer, before consecutive tip-ins from Chamberlain and Bradds got Belmont within 51-49 with 7:44 to go.

After a Smith driving basket, junior Jeff Laidig (Mishawaka, Ind.) drilled a wing three-pointer to claw Belmont within one.

Bradds continued his onslaught, as a conventional three-point play tied the score at 55 with 5:09 remaining - the closest Belmont had been since 21-20.

After Howard and Bradshaw exchanged dazzling baskets, Chamberlain forced a UT Martin turnover and led a Belmont fast break.

As the Bruins gathered steam in the frontcourt on a 4-on-1 break, officials suddenly halted play and whistled the UT Martin bench area for a techincal foul with 3:31 remaining.

Following the under four media timeout, Bradshaw sank both free throws to give Belmont a 59-57 lead. Moments later, Bradshaw sank a three-pointer to cap a five-point possession and give the Bruins a 62-57 advantage with 3:22 remaining.

Fueled by a energized student section, Belmont made several clutch plays down the stretch.

After two Javier Martinez free throws, Chamberlain made an acrobatic, driving basket to extend the Belmont lead to 64-59 with 1:55 left.

Senior Holden Mobley (Nashville, Tenn.) would secure a timely rebound off a Smith miss and Chamberlain would extend the lead to seven with 1:13 left from the free throw line.

Another defensive stop and two Bradshaw free throws made the score 68-59 with 53 seconds left. 

UT Martin continued to ride the hot hand of Smith late and, aided by a few Bruin misses from the charity stripe, got within 70-67 with two seconds left.

But a safe inbounds pass and two Laidig free throws ended the game.

All told, Belmont shot 42 percent (25-for-59) from the field - including 8-for-28 from three-point distance. The Bruins grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and forced 18 UT Martin turnovers.

Bradds led three Bruins in double figures with 22 points. Bradshaw added 21 points, while Chamberlain had 14 points, five assists and three steals.

Smith led UT Martin (11-7, 3-2 OVC) with 19 points, all in the second half.

Belmont (12-7, 4-2 OVC) returns to game action Sunday, Jan. 25 at Tennessee State. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on American Sports Network and MyTV30.

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: Bradds, who entered as the NCAA leader in field goal percentage at 68 percent, went 10-for-11 from the field ... Bradds recorded his third career double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds ... Belmont outscored UT Martin, 23-4, in points off turnovers ... Belmont got 14 second chance points in the second half ... Belmont honored head coach Rick Byrd prior to the game, in recognition of his 700th career victory Jan. 17 at Austin Peay ... 

As a show of gratitude to its neighbors in Metro Council Districts 17, 18 and 19, Belmont hosted community members for dinner, family activities and a Bruins basketball game at the seventh annual Community Day. Attendees enjoyed hot dogs, popcorn, drinks and a drumline battle between local high schools, Pearl-Cohn and Maplewood. In celebration of University mascot Bruiser's birthday, mascots from all over the city were in attendance for Bruiser's birthday party.