Belmont head coach Rick Byrd breathed a sigh of relief after Belmont defeated ETSU 68-58 on Feb. 18.
“I hope we keep playing but…that’s not a team I want to face again,” Byrd said, after the Bruins clinched the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Sun conference tournament.
Bucs guard Micah Williams was first to score in the game with a three, but Belmont’s Ian Clark was quick to answer with his own trey, giving Belmont its only tie of the first half.
Clark, Belmont’s leading scorer with 18 on the evening said he and his teammates “knew it was going to be a dog fight.”
The Bruins would remain in the single digits until the 13:23 mark when Brandon Baker sank his own three to bring Belmont within four for a score of 16-23.
ETSU would continue to dominate Belmont in the paint for the rest of the half 31-24, with the Bruins shooting only 29.2 percent from the field and committing 9 fouls.
“It’s hard to play as aggressively when you’re in foul trouble,” Byrd said.
Belmont’s first score of the second half came from an open shot behind the arc in the opening minute from guard Drew Hanlen, bringing the score to 33-27.
As the clock ran towards the 13-minute mark, ETSU’s lead was cut to 38-36 thanks to the combined efforts of Belmont’s Hanlen, Scott Saunders, and Jordan Campbell.
Jon House gave the Belmont fans a reason to cheer after sinking two free throws at 1l:58, giving the Bruins their first lead of the game, 40-38.
The Bruins and Bucs would battle back and forth for three lead changes and six ties by the end of the half.
Layups from Saunders and Trevor Noack helped Belmont outscore ETSU 10-1 from the 6:56 mark until Buccaneer guard Adam Sollazzo hit his own layup with two and a half minutes remaining.
The Bruins were able to maintain their lead for the rest of the game, bringing the nearly 2,000 in attendance at the Curb Event Center on their feet as Belmont came one step closer to grasping the Atlantic Sun regular season title.
Once again, Belmont’s depth showed its strength.
“We had to keep our pressure on, we knew we had more guys than they did, and I think that worked out for us,” Clark said.
Belmont’s last home game is this Saturday at 7:30 against USC-Upstate.