NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont University men's basketball led from start to finish in defeating Eastern Illinois, 97-64, in the quarterfinal round of the 2015 OVC Basketball Championship.
Entering on a four-game win streak - including 88-point outputs against Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State to close the regular season - Belmont continued its unselfish offensive play.
Freshman Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) got the Bruins started with a confident three-pointer 24 seconds into the game. A layin from sophomore Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) and a three-pointer from junior Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.) followed as Belmont seized an 8-0 lead 1:48 into the game.
Eastern Illinois head coach Jay Spoonhour quickly called timeout in hopes of halting the Bruin momentum.
But with steely resolve and purpose, Belmont simply continued the breathtaking pace.
Bradshaw added another basket and a pinpoint assist to sophomore Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.) to increase the lead to 12-0.
When senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) added a straight-on three-pointer, Belmont opened six-for-six from the field in seizing a 15-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. It was vintage play from Belmont, with surgical execution turning good shots into great shots.
Luke Piotrowski got Eastern Illinois on the board at the 15:58 mark, but two free throws from freshman Mack Mercer (Plymouth, Ind.) and a three-pointer from Nick Smith (Bentonville, Ark.) increased the margin to 22-5 with 13:33 left in the half.
Meanwhile Belmont played tough, unified defense, hounding Eastern Illinois' formidable frontcourt of Chris Olivier and Trae Anderson.
A run of three-pointers from Reggie Smith got Eastern Illinois within 34-22 with 5:37 left in the half, before the Bruins went on a 13-0 run.
A baseline slam from Bradshaw and consecutive three-pointers from Smith and freshman Austin Luke (Rowlett, Texas) pushed the lead to 47-22.
A Cornell Johnston basket made the score 47-24 at halftime.
Belmont shot 59 percent (17-for-29) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 9-for-15 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded Eastern Illinois, 19-11, and held the Panthers to 33 percent shooting.
Bradshaw had 10 points, five assists and four rebounds at the break. 10 different Belmont players scored in the first half.
An offensive rebound from Chamberlain led to a second chance three-pointer from Barnette to open the second half. Bradds added an interior basket to make the score 52-24 with 18:09 remaining.
Reggie Smith and Cornell Johnston tried to get Eastern Illinois back into the game, but once again Bradshaw and Egekeze fueled another major Bruin spurt.
The duo combined to score 12 points during a 15-0 Belmont run that made the score 72-42 with 9:02 left.
Bradshaw continued to deliver from all angles, scoring eight points over a 1:15 stretch that helped preserve the margin.
All told, Belmont shot 61 percent (36-for-59) from the field - including 16-for-27 from three-point distance. The Bruins made a season-high 36 field goals. Belmont outrebounded Eastern Illinois, 38-23.
Bradshaw led five Bruins in double figures with 23 points. He added six assists, five rebounds, and four steals. Bradds and Smith each scored 14 points. Egekeze added 12 points, six rebounds and three steals. Mercer had 10.
Chamberlain tallied nine points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Smith led Eastern Illinois (17-14) with 17 points.
Belmont (20-10) will play Eastern Kentucky tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. CT in the OVC semifinal round. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU and the WatchESPN app. 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: Belmont has won 20 or more games in 10 of the last 12 years ... Barnette had a career-high six rebounds ... Belmont's 16 made three-point field goals established a new program single-game record in conference tournament play (NCAA Division I era) ... The mark was one shy of the OVC Tournament single-game record.