The Bruins and their Nashville neighbors from Tennessee State put on a good show for the ESPN cameras tonight as they closely battled toward a tight Belmont win, 73-71.
“Its a big Nashville game, people around here care a lot so we had to make sure we came out on top,” said guard Reece Chamberlain.
Not only did the Bruins win in front of a national audience, but a special guest also made an appearance.
The Curb Event Center warmly welcomed back former Bruin, Ian Clark, to present the official game ball. This was Ian’s first appearance back since leaving Nashville in September to play in the NBA for the Utah Jazz.
Because of the Nashville rivalry, Belmont expected a tough game regardless of TSU’s current last place standing in the OVC East.
“Coming in, we knew that they were better than their record shows and they have some great players,” said Chamberlain, who earned a career-high 19 points tonight. “I expected it to be a close game.”
Belmont had three players who scored double digits tonight. JJ Mann led with 21, Chamberlain, 19, and Craig Bradshaw, 10.
Widespread scoring helped earn the win for the Bruins with a variety of players making appearances tonight.
Freshman Nick Smith took advantage of some early minutes by scoring two back-to-back 3-pointers for the Bruins. Fellow classmate Evan Bradds earned his first start of his career tonight and earned a career-high 28 minutes of play time.
The Bruins started the game off strong, reaching an early 15 point lead seven minutes into the game at 23-10, until the Tigers went on a 13-point run halfway through the first half to nearly tie the game at 25-23.
The remaining minutes were filled with back-and-forth scoring, giving the Bruins a 37-33 lead going into the locker room at the half.
Tennessee State proved they came to win, scoring 5 unanswered points to start off the second half, earning their first lead of the game, 38-37.
Belmont answered with nine points to earn the lead back with the score 48-41 at the 12 minute mark.
“When the game was on the line midway through the second half, we took it to them and got up,” said Coach Rick Byrd.
At crunch time with 3 and a half minutes left, the Bruins led 66-62 with the Tigers having two players each with 4 fouls.
With 20.3 seconds remaining in the contest, a single-possession game forced the Bruins into a 30-second timeout, score at 71-69 Belmont.
TSU called a 30-second timeout at 1.4 seconds remaining with the score at a close 73-71 Bruin lead.
“We knew they weren’t going to come in here and just fold, we knew they were coming to play hard and we didn’t make enough shots to blow them out,” said Mann.
After a heart-stopping final second, the Bruins earned their 11th conference win, keeping their No. 1 OVC standing with a 73-71 victory.
Belmont returns to action at home when they take on Eastern Illinois at 7 p.m next Thursday.