MURRAY, Ky. – Down by double digits with less than five minutes to go, the Belmont men’s basketball team looked certain to be headed to their first conference loss of the season.
But 3-pointers from forwards Brandon Baker and Trevor Noack changed that.
After their baskets, the Bruins went on an improbable 14-4 run, tying the game in its final minutes before falling to the Murray State Racers 79-74 Thursday night.
Despite the last-minute heroics of his team, coach Rick Byrd still felt the Racers deserved the home win after leading for the vast majority of the game.
“They played much better for 35 minutes of the game and that’s really the greatest measure, but I don’t think there’s doubt who played the best game tonight,” he said.
In front of a near-capacity crowd and a national TV audience, the loss was Belmont’s fourth conference loss in three years.
“Belmont doesn’t get any nights off anymore,” Byrd said.
The Bruins opened the game by taking an early lead with baskets from JJ Mann and Kerron Johnson. With 11 minutes left in the half, Murray’s Stacy Wilson and Isaiah Canaan, who led all scorers with 26 points, led the Racers on a 12-2 run that gave the home team the lead from nearly the rest of the night.
Murray expanded their lead to double digits after Wilson sank two straight threes near the end of the half. Ian Clark responded with his first three of the night, but the Racers’ play after that gave them a ten-point halftime advantage. In that half, the Bruins were statistically outmatched in shooting, rebounding and turnovers by the home team.
“You shoot the ball good when you’re fired up and ready to play and I think they were the better team in just about every facet of the game,” Byrd said.
After Murray scored quickly to open the second half, baskets from Clark, Mann and a healthy Blake Jenkins cut the Belmont deficit to nine.
But the Bruins still struggled to produce in the perimeter, shooting only 23 percent from the outside nearly halfway into the second half. With more than five minutes left in the game, the Racers took advantage of that and led by 15.
Noack and Baker, however, started cutting into the lead by scoring their first buckets of the game in the paint and from the perimeter, helping bring the Bruins within 10 points.
In nine seconds, a three from Noack, followed by a full court press steal from Reece Chamberlain and a quick three from Clark cut that lead to four.
With nearly two minutes left, two Canaan free throws were be matched by a Noack basket to keep the Racer lead at four.
Canaan would sink two more foul shots before Clark made a 3-pointer several feet past the perimeter and cut Murray’s lead to three.
Another Clark basket from the same spot seconds later tied the game, but a matching three from Canaan to give Murray the lead back 77-74 with 35 seconds left.
A missed three from Mann combined with made free throws from Canaan and Daniel sealed the victory for the Racers.
Clark led all Belmont scorers with 22 points. Mann, Jenkins and Johnson all also scored at least 10 points on the night. The Bruins shot 64 percent from the field in the second half.