NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont University men's basketball rallied from a 16-point second half deficit to defeat Eastern Kentucky, 66-61, Thursday evening.
The Bruins and Colonels have quickly forged a healthy rivalry in Belmont's third OVC campaign. History helps, with Belmont torching the nets for a program-record 67 percent shooting two seasons ago in victory at Eastern Kentucky.
Meanwhile, the Colonels won the 2014 OVC Championship to deny Belmont the opportunity to become the first NCAA Division I men's basketball program since Gonzaga (2004-07) to win four consecutive regular season and tournament conference championships.
And once again the two highly-ranked three-point shooting programs found themselves battling for top billing in the OVC East Division.
Nine quick points from junior Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.) pushed Belmont to an early 12-7 lead.
But following a three-pointer from sophomore Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.) at the 12:18 mark, Belmont made just one field goal over the next seven minutes.
Capitalizing on Bruin turnovers, Eastern Kentucky seized a 31-19 lead on a Timmy Knipp three-pointer with 5:20 left in the first half.
With senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) mired in foul trouble and Belmont searching for offensive answers, Bradshaw almost single-handedly kept the Bruins afloat.
Bradshaw scored Belmont's final 10 points of the first half to keep the Bruins within six, 35-29, at halftime.
Belmont shot 42 percent (10-for-24) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 5-for-15 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded Eastern Kentucky, 21-9, but 14 first half turnovers told the story.
Bradshaw scored 19 first half points.
But hopes of a quick turnaround to open the second half was sternly rejected by the maroon-clad visitors.
Three driving layins from Isaac McGlone and a 17-footer from Deverin Muff extended the Eastern Kentucky lead to 47-31 with 15:01 remaining.
Then, almost like the thunderous ice quake that struck Nashville Wednesday night, Belmont roared back in the blink of an eye.
The run began innocently enough with a driving layin by Chamberlain at the 14:49 mark, which ushered the under 16 media timeout.
After a Knipp baseline three-pointer momentarily stemmed the tide, Bradshaw hit two free throws to make the score 50-42.
Then in a flash sophomore Caleb Chowbay (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) and Barnette buried consecutive treys 33 seconds apart to claw the Bruins within 50-48 with 11:37 left.
After Bradshaw drew a charging foul on McGlone, Chowbay drained another three-pointer on a second shot opportunity to give Belmont a 51-50 lead with 10:38 to go.
As Chowbay's shot ripped the nets, the Bruin crowd erupted in unison; the electrifying turn of events to cap a 20-3 Belmont run in just over four minutes was one of the loudest scenes in recent memory.
Eric Stutz scored two baskets to stabilize the Colonels and provide a three point lead with 8:26 left.
Freshman Burton Sampson (Knoxville, Tenn.) provided two timely free throws off the bench, but charity stripe makes from Ja'Mill Powell and Jaylen Babb-Harrison stretched the Eastern Kentucky lead to 59-55 with 5:29 remaining.
After the huge spurt, Belmont went seven minutes without a field goal, shouldering agonizing misses on backdoor plays and clean three-point looks.
But Bruin hustle would be rewarded down the stretch, as a clutch Chamberlain three-pointer got Belmont within 59-58 with 3:26 left.
After Stutz darted inside for two with 2:18 remaining, Chamberlain was fouled with 2:04 to go working into the frontcourt.
He sank both ends of a huge one-and-one free throw opportunity to again trim the margin to one.
Paul Jackson would miss a wing three-pointer with 1:36 remaining and Chowbay secured the rebound.
The Bruins ran offense, and freed Chamberlain for a potential go-ahead three-pointer. His shot rimmed off, but Egekeze skied for a clutch offensive rebound.
He proceeded to pass outside to Chowbay, who continued his exemplary second half with a pullup jumper with 1:11 left to give the Bruins a 62-61 lead.
Bradshaw would rebound a Stutz missed three-pointer with 50 seconds left, leading Belmont to a timeout.
With roughly 13 seconds between game clock and shot clock, Belmont worked the offensive possession, turned to Bradshaw, and watched as the junior calmly buried a step-back, 17-footer with 18 seconds left to give the Bruins a 64-61 advantage.
Following a Colonel timeout, Eastern Kentucky would elect to go for a quick two-point basket. But Jackson's driving layin attempt would rim off and Belmont grabbed the rebound.
Chowbay made two free throws with 10 seconds left to provide the final margin.
All told, Belmont shot 40 percent (20-for-50) from the field - including 11-for-31 from three-point distance. Belmont outrebounded Eastern Kentucky, 39-22, and limited the Colonels to one second half three-pointer.
But perhaps more importantly, the Bruins committed only five second half turnovers, including none in the final 8:58 of the game.
The Bruins limited Eastern Kentucky to four field goals over the final 15 minutes.
Bradshaw led three Bruins in double figures with 25 points. He added 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. Barnette scored 11 and Chowbay added a season-high 10.
Knipp led Eastern Kentucky (16-10, 8-5 OVC) with 18 points.
Belmont (17-10, 9-5 OVC) returns to game action Saturday, Feb. 21 at Tennessee Tech.
Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. CT. 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. In-game updates will be available on Twitter @BelmontMBB.
NOTES: Belmont has won 29 consecutive conference home games dating back to 2011 ... Belmont outscored Eastern Kentucky, 16-6, in second chance points and 14-7 off the bench ... Egekeze delivered one of the best performances of his freshman season with five points, eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals.