Photos by Andrew Hunt
Exactly a week after the Bruins fell at the buzzer to the Eagles, history looked like it would repeat itself for the Belmont men’s basketball team against Morehead State.
Shortly after Belmont tied the game with 10 seconds left, the Eagles banked a layup at the buzzer to secure the victory on Feb. 7.
But Saturday night at the Curb Event Center, Belmont found itself on the other side as Evan Bradds converted a layup and free throw with 11.3 seconds left to secure Belmont the 58-57 victory.
The Eagles had multiple tip-in attempts in the final seconds but each fell short thanks to the Bruins’ pressure.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. This is like last weekend.’ We practiced hard this week and we needed this win,” said Belmont forward Mack Mercer. “So I think we did a great job of grinding it out and coming together as a team.”
Mercer played 16 minutes off the bench and led the Bruins with a career-high 17 points after his previous career-high came against the Eagles last Saturday.
The win snapped Belmont’s first three-game conference losing streak since 2010.
“It’s going to be like pulling teeth sometimes to get wins. We needed this one badly. We lost three in a row and that’s unfamiliar territory to us in conference play,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd.
Neither team could find its rhythm or build more than four-point lead in a game that saw 19 lead changes and 14 ties.
“That was a battle from the start. The last few minutes, that was even more of a grind. It was so great for us to come together as a team and get a stop with 10 seconds left,” said Mercer.
Morehead State built an early 13-9 advantage behind six points from Karam Mashour before Belmont strung together a small 6-0 run capped off by a pair of free throws from Bradds.
Although Belmont’s defense held Morehead State without a field goal for nearly seven minutes, the Bruins still found themselves down by two at the end of the first half, 27-25.
“They have big lineups and they have small lineups. So we do have to adjust and play differently depending on which lineup they have in the game,” said Byrd.
Both teams reflected the winter weather and matched one another with a cold 32 percent from the field in the first half.
While the first half started off slowly, the teams picked up the pace in the second half. Each team exchanged points back-and-forth as neither could build a multiple-possession lead.
Mercer exploded off the bench midway for the Bruins and a slam dunk by the forward allowed Belmont to briefly take a one-point lead.
“He gives us an inside presence that we really haven’t had. He’s going to be a factor now on for us,” said Byrd. “He can score it a lot of different ways. Actually, he’s a good three-point shooter and he’s a little hesitant right now to go ahead and shoot it. But we would like for him to do that.”
Morehead State finally broke the single-possession trend with four minutes remaining and grabbed a four-point 54-50 lead behind a layup from Billy Reader.
Corban Collins kept it a two-possession game until a trey from Reece Chamberlain brought the Bruins within one with 1:54 to play.
With the game on the line, Bradds stepped up when his team needed him the most and converted the free throw to claim the 58-57 victory. The forward finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double.
Belmont improved to 8-5 in conference play with the win and will look to avenge its loss last week to Eastern Kentucky when the Colonels visit the Curb Event Center on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.