NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont University men's basketball shook off a disjointed start to defeat Tennessee State, 63-55, Sunday night.
After gutsy victories over Austin Peay and UT Martin, Belmont looked to rediscover its vintage offensive efficiency at the Gentry Center against the new-look Tigers.
However, three Bruin turnovers in the first two minutes and a basket from Darreon Reddick pushed the hosts to a 9-3 lead.
Freshman Mack Mercer (Plymouth, Ind.) scored inside to get Belmont within 11-8 and the Bruins seemed poised to find their stride.
But a string of violent rim outs and an unfortunate, inadvertent elbowing foul on senior Holden Mobley (Nashville, Tenn.) - on a play in which he was fouled by TSU's Charles Tucker - stifled Belmont momentum.
Consecutive three-pointers from Jay Harris gave Tennessee State a 21-8 lead at the 12:03 mark.
Following a steal and score from junior Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.), four points from Marcus Roper made the score 25-10 with 9:08 left in the half.
That is when the Bruin bench provided a gigantic lift.
The Bruins got within 30-28 at halftime.
Belmont shot 42 percent (8-for-19) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 3-for-12 from three-point distance. The Bruins committed eight first half turnovers, but held the Tigers to 34 percent shooting.
The strange script continued, as Belmont was unable to parlay its late first-half push to open the second half.
The Bruins went scoreless the first 3:05 as Xavier Richards gave Tennessee State a 34-28 lead.
But thereafter, Belmont strung together defensive stops and scores during an overwhelming run.
Smith got it started with a short jumper, before two Bradshaw free throws gave Belmont its first lead, 35-34, with 15:10 left.
Five more points from Mercer increased the Belmont lead to 45-37 with 12:59 left.
With Harris nursing foul trouble, the Bruins continued to showcase unselfish play, as senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.), Smith and Bradshaw buried three-pointers in a 1:56 span.
When the dust settled, Belmont had ripped off a 28-5 run to lead 56-39 with 9:03 remaining.
After making 17 of its first 21 free throw attempts, Belmont inexplicably missed seven of 10 attempts down the stretch to give the Tigers a glimmer of life.
But more strong defense secured the victory.
All told, Belmont shot 42 percent (17-for-41) from the field - including 9-for-26 from three-point distance. The Bruins limited Tennessee State to 33 percent shooting while forcing 15 turnovers.
Smith led three Bruins in double figures with 12 points. Bradshaw had 11 points and four rebounds, while Chamberlain added 10 points and five assists
Bradds had nine points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
Reddick led Tennessee State (3-18, 0-6 OVC) with 17 points.
Belmont (13-7, 5-2 OVC) returns to game action Thursday, Jan. 29 versus Jacksonville State. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center.
The game will be broadcast 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 and 104.5 The Zone. In-game updates will be available on Twitter @BelmontMBB.
NOTES: The Bruins have won 11 of the last 12 meetings with Tennessee State ... Belmont outrebounded Tennessee State, 36-26 ... The Belmont bench outscored the Tennessee State bench, 24-8 ... Mercer and Sampson recorded new career-highs.