The top-seeded Belmont Bruins lost to the No. 8 seed Austin Peay Governors 97-96 in overtime Saturday and were eliminated from the OVC tournament.
The Bruins controlled the ball with 13 seconds remaining in the overtime, but a last-second 3-pointer by sophomore Austin Luke and an attempted tip-in by senior Craig Bradshaw both narrowly missed to send Belmont packing.
While the loss was a disappointing one, Belmont head coach Rick Byrd was proud of how his team performed.
“There really was no difference between the two teams,” said Byrd. “You’ve got to be fair to your own players and tell them how proud you are of them. I thought we competed really hard.”
The Governors came out shooting hot and a pair of 3-pointers from freshman Jared Savage gave them a 15-7 lead four minutes into the game.
Belmont would storm back with an 8-0 run led by junior Evan Bradds to tie the game. Bradds scored 10 of Belmont’s first 15 points. 3-pointers from senior Craig Bradshaw and sophomore Amanze Egekeze gave Belmont brief leads in the first half, but the Governors responded with buckets of their own.
The game remained close until a dunk by Bradds with four minutes remaining in the half sparked a 12-0 run for the Bruins to give them their largest lead of the game.
The Bruins went into halftime leading 47-38.
Belmont capitalized off mistakes by the Austin Peay offense in the first half, scoring 13 points off of seven turnovers by the Governors.
The Governors made their first six shots of the second half to trim the lead down to four with 15 minutes remaining. Austin Peay retook the lead with 12 minutes to play off of free throws from senior Chris Horton.
Horton and Bradds battled each other on both ends of the court throughout the game. Horton finished with 30 points and Bradds had 32.
“He’s a great player. He’s arguably the best big man in our league,” said Bradds. “He played exceptional tonight, especially in the second half.”
The lead constantly switched between the two teams throughout the second half and neither team held a lead larger than three from the 12-minute mark in the second half until the end of regulation.
A three-point play by Horton with 46 seconds to play gave the Governors an 89-87 lead, but a baseline layup by Bradshaw would tie the game up again with 35 seconds to go.
The Bruins had the ball with five seconds to go, but Bradds’ running layup would bounce off the back of the rim and out. The miss was the first of the game for Bradds after making 15 in a row.
In the overtime period, a 3-pointer by Egekeze pushed the Bruins out in front to start. However, the Governors drew multiple fouls and consistently hit free throws to take the lead.
An offensive foul by Austin Peay junior John Murry gave Belmont the ball back down by one, but the last-ditch attempts to score by Luke and Bradshaw came up short.
With their chance at an NCAA tournament bid ended, the Bruins will now look forward to the NIT. Belmont automatically qualifies for the NIT as the regular-season champion in the OVC.
The last time Belmont played in the NIT was 2014 when they made the quarterfinals before losing to Clemson.
“There are a lot of people doing this that would give anything to be in the NIT,” said Byrd. “It was a great experience for us last time.”
NIT seeds will be announced on March 13.