Sophomore forwards Evan Bradds and Nick Smith combined equally for 30 of Belmont’s points as the Bruins beat Middle Tennessee State 63-59 on Tuesday for their seventh straight win.
“I think Nick’s been playing really well. He gives us a threat there that we’ve really needed in the four spot,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd. “Evan is consistent. He’s always going to give you a lot.”
Bradds and Smith accounted for 18 of Belmont’s 27 second-half points on a night where the Bruins shot only 38 percent in the second half.
The game started out slowly for both teams as neither could find a way to score for almost three minutes until a 3-pointer by Smith dropped to break the scoreless tie.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by junior Craig Bradshaw and sophomore transfer Taylor Barnette gave the Bruins an 11-5 lead and forced MTSU to call a timeout with 13:22 remaining in the first half.
MTSU worked its way back into the game and a 3-pointer cut Belmont’s lead to three with eight minutes remaining in the half.
However, a steal by Barnette led to a fast-break dunk for Bradds, which drew a large cheer from the lively crowd and gave Belmont a 5-point lead.
Belmont would maintain its lead and head into halftime ahead, 36-26.
The Bruins shot 48 percent from the field in the first half including 55 percent from 3-point range.
Smith took over for Belmont at the start of the second half, scoring 12 of the Bruins’ first 14 points. A 3-pointer by Smith with 12:46 remaining in the game gave Belmont its largest lead of the night, 50-34.
“I came out wanting to work hard in the second half and God just let them go in,” said Smith.
The Blue Raiders began to mount a rally as Belmont’s shooting began to cool off. An 18-4 run from MTSU cut into Belmont’s lead and left the team down by just two with six minutes still remaining in the game.
The Bruins were able to jump in front for good after a layup from Bradds rolled in with 1:03 left on the clock to put Belmont up 60-57.
A few missed shots by MTSU and added free throws by Barnette and senior Reece Chamberlain in the final 30 seconds sealed the win for the Bruins.
A key factor for Belmont was its ability to capitalize on MTSU turnovers. The Bruins scored 31 points off of Blue Raider turnovers.
“We tried to be real active defensively and we tried to get a lot of deflections and make a lot of plays,” said Byrd. “Pressure sometimes gives them problems and without that they would have won the game.”
Belmont improves to 7-1 on the season with the win. Four of the Bruin’s last five wins have been decided by five points or less.
“I think our players believe we can win close games, but that doesn’t mean you always do,” said Byrd. “You need some good luck and you need shots to go in at the right time.”
The Bruins will take a break for finals week and resume play Dec. 9 when they host Evansville at 7 p.m. in the Curb Event Center.