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Boulevard Battle Royale

Boulevard Battle Royale

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Freshman Caleb Hollander (Nashville, Tenn.) hit a runner with 4.9 seconds remaining to lift Belmont University men's basketball to a thrilling 76-74 victory over Lipscomb Tuesday from the Curb Event Center.

Lipscomb had one final opportunity, but Nathan Moran's baseline 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out.

The 144th edition of the famed college basketball rivalry known as the Battle of the Boulevard lived up to advanced billing and will rank among the all-time series classics.

Though both teams feature efficient, high scoring offense, the familarity between coaching staffs and personnel lent itself to a game where each and every point was hard-earned.

Behind Kenny Cooper, Lipscomb scored seven of the first nine points of the game.

But timely bench contirbutions from junior Michael Benkert (Greenwood, Ind.) enabled the Bruins to respond and claim a 13-11 lead seven minutes in.

After a Hollander 3-pointer and a slam from senior All-America candidate Dylan Windler (Indianpolis, Ind.), Belmont endured a similar stretch of first half adversity that hindered them in the Nov. 15 meeting.

Windler and fellow senior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.) each picked up their second personal foul 34 seconds apart midway through the half, confounding what offensive continuity the Bruins had established.

From there, Lipscomb tightened the screws on its trademark iron curtain defense, limiting Belmont to one field goal over a six-minute stretch.

As Belmont head coach Rick Byrd sought a lineup combination to meet Lipscomb's force with force on both ends, five Moran points gave the Bisons a 31-20 advantage with 4:15 left in the first half.

But in arguably the biggest sequence of the game, the Bruins closed the half on a 13-4 run; seven quick points from freshman Nick Muszynski (Pickerington, Ohio) and 3-pointers from freshman Grayson Murphy (Thompson's Station, Tenn.) and Benkert got Belmont within 35-33 at halftime.

Belmont shot 38 percent (13-for-34) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 6-for-18 from 3-point distance. But the Bruin defense kept them well-positioned, holding the Bisons to 34 percent shooting in the first half.

Benkert led Belmont with nine first half points.

3-pointers from Murphy and Windler to open the second half gave Belmont a 41-37 lead with 17:08 left.

Rob Marberry would usher his second half offensive duel with Muszynski with a twisting basket in the lane to put Lipscomb back on top, 46-45, with 14:55 left.

An electric conventional 3-point play from McClain and scores from Muszynski and Benkert pushed Belmont to a 59-50 edge with 9:57 remaining.

Yet just as Belmont sought to build a working margin, Marberry powered an 11-1 Lipscomb run - with scores and assists - that gave the Bisons a 61-60 lead.

Windler was selective, but ultra-impactful, hitting several high-degree of difficulty shots in the final seven minutes to preserve a Belmont lead.

His fadeaway 17-footer made the score 70-65 with 3:32 remaining.

But out of the media timeout, Moran danced home a baseline 3-pointer that touched every part of the rim to cut the margin to two points; he would find himself in a nearly identical spot to end the game.

After an exchange of defensive stops, McClain delivered a pocket pass to Muszynski for a layin and a 72-68 lead with 2:04 left.

As if the game hadn't been high-drama enough, the final two minutes included enough courageous shot-making and heart-stopping monitor reviews to last a lifetime.

Marberry would be fouled in the act of shooting with 1:51 to go; after apparently missing his first free throw attempt, Belmont was whistled for a lane violation, which gave Marberry a reprieve.

He took full advantage, sinking both free throws to cut Belmont's lead in half.

From there, Belmont executed a Coach Byrd play to perfection, freeing Windler along the baseline for a thunderous slam and a 74-70 lead with 1:37 left.

Moments later, Muszynski blocked a shot attempt from Michael Buckland, but Lipscomb regathered and found Marberry, who spun and scored for a potential 3-point play opportunity with 1:15 remaining.

His free throw rimmed off and Belmont secured the rebound.

Belmont proceeded to work the possession, Murphy drove and set up Muszynski, but his initial shot and putback attempt uncharacteristically rimmed off.

Marberry would then deliver another bank shot through strong Bruin post defense to tie the score at 74 with 33 seconds left.

Following a timeout, Murphy worked the ball into the Bruin frontcourt only to get his arms tangled up with Moran at the timeline.

As the point guards battled for the loose ball, Moran gained possession and was granted a timeout by officials with 23 seconds left.

Officials went to the replay monitor - potentially to assess a Flagrant 1 'hook and hold' foul against the either player - but the call stood and Lipscomb retained possession.

The emotional plot twists continued, as on the subsequent inbounds play, Benkert and Windler trapped Moran along the near sideline, with the basketball going out of bounds. Officials deemed the ball deflected off Moran and awarded possession back to Belmont with 21 seconds left.

With the shot clock off, Belmont worked the ball into the frontcourt, presumably for the final shot of regulation.

But as expected, Lipscomb head coach Casey Alexander had something planned for his former head coach; the Bisons brought double teams to the basketball, forcing Belmont into a scramble situation.

As the clock dipped under 10 seconds, Windler fed Muszynski in the post, who whipped a crosscourt pass to Hollander along the far wing.

Hollander then shot faked and drove the lane, sinking a running 10-footer with 4.9 seconds remaining.

As the Belmont student section erupted, Byrd signaled for and was granted a timeout to set up his defense.

Needing to go the length of the floor, Lipscomb found Cooper, who raced into the frontcourt, only to have his dribble poked free from behind by Windler.

The ball rocketed pass the baseline out of bounds, with Lipscomb awarded possession with 0.8 seconds left.

Lipscomb lined up for its final play along the baseline, only to call timeout moments into the play sequence.

Both teams drew up their final respective offensive and defensive assignments, with the entire Curb Event Center crowd on its feet - and spellbound.

With Belmont having to prepare for a number of play options - and perhaps expecting an action running nearer to Lipscomb inbounder Buckland - the Bisons freed Moran in the far corner.

The point guard rose and shot what would have been the game-winning 3-pointer - from nearly the exact spot he had rimmed home a triple with 3:19 left.

As the entire arena held its breath, the shot danced around the rim and fell off as the horn sounded.

And with that, the latest epic of the Battle of the Boulevard was in the books.

All told, Belmont shot 44 percent (30-for-68) from the field - including 12-for-30 from 3-point distance.

Muszynski led four Belmont players in double figures with 19 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. Murphy had 15 points, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals.

Windler had 12 points, six rebounds, a career-high seven assists, two steals and two blocked shots.

Benkert had a career-high 12.

Marberry led Lipscomb (6-2) with 26 points.

Belmont (7-1) returns to game action following semester exams Dec. 15 at UCLA.

NOTES: Belmont is 108-8 in its last 116 home games dating back to 2010 ... Belmont leads the NCAA Division I era series 22-11 and has won 13 of the last 15 meetings ... Belmont has handed Lipscomb - who boasts wins at TCU, SMU and Middle Tennessee - its only two losses of the season; Belmont won at Lipscomb, 87-83, Nov. 15 ... Muszynski recorded his first career double-double ... Benkert recorded his first career double figure game ... Belmont limited Lipscomb to zero fast break points ... Belmont held Garrison Mathews to five points, his lowest output since scoring three points at NJIT, (2/1/16), a stretch of 82 games ... Aside from his 26-point performance, Marberry also holds the Curb Event Center opponent single-game record for shooting (11-for-11; 11/29/16).