• Lillie Burke

Battling for Boulevard bragging rights: A look at the Belmont, Lipscomb rivalry

Just 1.7 miles.

A short walk, and an even faster drive, but it’s a distance that carries 68 years of rivalry between the schools at either end of the journey down Belmont Boulevard.

Belmont University and Lipscomb University first met on the basketball court in 1953 and have been battling for bragging rights on the Boulevard ever since.

The two schools have met 148 times over the series’ history, with Lipscomb leading by a razor-thin margin of 75 wins to the Bruins’ 73 across both men’s and women’s games.

“It’s the rivalry, you never know what’s going to happen in a rivalry game. Those teams know each other better than anybody,” said Logan Butts, a communications coordinator at Lipscomb who wrote his master’s thesis on the longtime competition between the two universities.

“There are not a lot of rivalries that are literally this physically, geographically close together. I think it’s the closest one in all of Division I, right up there with Cincinnati and Xavier.”

Lipscomb’s Tommy Murr guards EJ Bellinger during the Battle of the Boulevard game. Belmont Vision / Sarah Maninger

It’s always been Belmont and Lipscomb, sister institutions in arms and at odds. But just because the rivalry takes place on a boulevard called Belmont doesn’t mean Lipscomb hasn’t had its fair share of wins.

During the Bisons’ most successful stretch from 1980 to 1992, the team won 32 out of 37 games.

The most historic of those meetings came on Feb. 17, 1990, when the two teams played at Vanderbilt University’s Memorial Gymnasium in front of an NAIA-record 16,000 fans. 

Lipscomb beat Belmont by 17 points.

Since then, the Bruins have dominated under the leadership of former head coach Rick Byrd before the Hall of Famer passed the baton to his protege — former Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander.

Now it’s a former Bison leading the Bruins to victory.

“I think that is maybe the most fascinating thing that’s ever happened in this rivalry. He was a point guard under Rick, he was a coach at Lipscomb who really led them to the best success they’ve ever had. Then he comes over here and fulfills his mentor’s spot,” said Butts.

Coach Casey Alexander, formerly of Lipscomb, focuses on the game from the edge of the court. Belmont Vision / Sarah Maninger

More than 30 years after that momentous game at Vanderbilt, Bruins and Bisons fans of all ages still pack the Belmont’s Curb Event Center and Lipscomb’s Allen Arena, ready to watch pandemonium unfold.

The Bruins reigned in both of their most recent matchups, dominating Thursday at the 75th Battle of the Boulevard and sending the Bisons back home winless and wondering what went wrong. 

The energy of the crowd kept students from both schools on their feet for most of the game.

The Bruins fans especially made themselves known in the team’s home arena, holding signs that read, “It’s called Belmont Boulevard for a reason.”

Belmont sports administration professor Dr. Kristi Oshiro experienced an intense college rivalry herself. She’s an Aggie alum who watched Texas A&M battle its longtime archenemy, the University of Texas.

“I think rivalry is a really big part and a really fun part about college sport. I think it’s very unusual to have so many teams in one city, let alone so close in proximity between Belmont and Lipscomb,” Oshiro said.

No. 0 Tuti Jones looks for a pass while surrounded by Lipscomb defenders. Jones scored a career-high 29 points in the game. Belmont Vision / Sarah Maninger

Both the men’s and women’s teams typically meet annually, switching off who hosts, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it so the women haven’t squared off since 2019.

In that game, Belmont won 69-68.

The rivalry has spanned dozens of coaches, hundreds of players and thousands of passionate fans, but the heart of it will always be the Boulevard.

In a time in which everything is changing, one thing is certain — this rivalry is here to stay, especially if Thursday’s louder-than-life game is anything to go by.

“Let’s go Bruins!” Belmont’s student section shouted.

“Let’s go Bisons!” Lipscomb’s visiting fans roared back.

The student section was filled for Thursday night’s Battle of the Boulevard in the Curb Event Center. Belmont Vision / Sarah Maninger

PHOTO: Destinee Wells sprints to the hoop in Belmont’s 67-62 win over Lipscomb on Thursday night. Belmont Vision / Sarah Maninger

This article was written by Sarah Maninger.

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