While the weather outside cooled off Nashville, hot shooting from Craig Bradshaw and Evan Bradds heated up the Curb Event Center with a 73-68 win over SIU Edwardsville.
Bradds contributed a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds, including 8-of-10 from the field. Bradshaw led the scoring for the Bruins with 26 points including 9-for-10 at the free throw line.
“We needed to get the ball in his hands as much as we could. He’s an explosive player, and he’s a player that’s hard to guard,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd on Bradshaw’s performance.
After a fairly equal start, but with SIU Edwardsville staying consistently ahead, the Cougars created a 6-point lead behind two dunks from Jackson Keaton in the first four minutes.
Nick Smith stopped the run with the Bruins’ first 3-pointer of the match to make the score 16-13 at the 13-minute mark.
However, SIUE’s Michael Messer responded with a three of his own to put the gap back to six.
While the Bruins struggled to make 3-pointers, the Cougars shined behind the arc. SIUE shot 50 percent while Belmont shot 14 percent with less than eight minutes remaining.
“The way they started out the game, they were hitting just about anything. They cooled off a little bit, but we still felt like we were giving them too many second-chance points,” said freshman Amanze Egekeze.
The 3-pointers weren’t falling for the Bruins so they changed their tactic and went for two. The change-up worked as the team went on a 10-point run led by stellar play from Bradshaw.
“Anybody’s offense is designed to take what the other team gives you, and I thought we had good looks at threes and didn’t really make them, but we started running some ball screen stuff, they got lost a bit and we got some easy layups,” said Byrd.
The junior guard started the drive with a fade-away jumper and an assist to Barnette to put Belmont within one with five minutes remaining in the half.
Another jumper from Bradshaw gave the Bruins the lead for the first time at 28-27. At this point, SIUE hadn’t scored in over five minutes.
“We weren’t shooting the ball like we normally do so we needed any little bit of energy to keep us going, keep our energy going on defense,” said Egekeze. “Craig was really huge for us keeping us alive.”
The Cougars ended their scoring drought and battled back to reclaim the lead going into the half, 38-36.
Belmont closed out the half shooting 48 percent overall and 18 percent from behind the arch. SIUE shot 41 percent and 40 percent from three.
Contrary to the first half, Belmont started the second half 2-for-2 from the 3-point line. However, similarly to the first half, the teams traded points, but this time the Bruins stayed ahead of the Cougars.
SIUE kept up with the Bruins with help from free throws as Belmont committed five fouls in the first five minutes of the half.
With less than eight minutes remaining in the match, both teams were shooting over 50 percent with the Bruins shooting an impressive 56 percent. But still, the low 3-point percentage lingered at 29 percent compared to the Cougars’ 40 percent.
However, one of the most back-and-forth games of the season consisting of 17 ties and 18 lead changes finally ended up in the Bruins’ favor, 73-69.
Belmont begins a three-game road-swing in Charleston, Ill. on Saturday against Eastern Illinois at 3:15. Byrd will have the chance to earn career win No. 700.