For the first time in program history, the Belmont men’s basketball team earned a victory in the NIT postseason with a 85-70 win over the Horizon League regular season champion Green Bay Phoenix Tuesday evening.
“It’s a big win for our kids. It’s a nice addendum to a tough loss in the OVC tournament,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd. “It gives us something to get excited and positive about and look forward to hosting a game.”
Craig Bradshaw led the way in scoring for the Bruins with a career-high 25 points and went 9-for-14 from the field. Senior Drew Windler added 15 points and led the team with seven rebounds.
“He [Bradshaw] made those three threes early, shot it well and with confidence. He’s a game changer when he plays like that,” Byrd said.
Both teams battled hard into the opening minutes of the contest as the game was tied at nine with 15:34 to go in the first half. The Bruins eventually built a 15 point lead behind unselfish play as all five starters found the scoreboard by the 6:19 mark.
Despite the large margin, Green Bay continued to push forward and produced a 10-0 run as the Phoenix defense held Belmont without a basket for several minutes.
“Their pressure isn’t anything crazy, but they had length which bothered us. They found the seams well and got deflections,” Windler said.
As Green Bay continued to pressure, a dunk from Jordan Fouse cut the lead down to 37-33 with less than three minutes to play.
With time expiring in the first half, JJ Mann forced a steal and made a layup to give the Bruins a 49-38 halftime lead. Belmont shot over 54 percent from the field in the first half while its defense forced 14 turnovers.
The Bruins opened up the second half on a 9-2 run led by Windler, Mann and Bradshaw to extend their lead 58-39 with 16 minutes remaining.
While the stifling defense from Green Bay held Bruins to fewer shots, back-to-back three pointers from Spencer Turner kept Belmont’s lead intact.
“Nobody on this team will never tell Spencer not to shoot the ball. It’s only fitting that he made them,” Windler said.
With less than two minutes to go, the Phoenix came within seven points as they cut the lead down 72-65 behind play from Fouse.
However, a three pointer from Windler and free throws down the stretch sealed the win for Belmont.
Overall, Belmont shot 47 percent from the field and went 10-for-27 from behind the arc. Defensively, the Bruins forced 21 turnovers and outrebounded the Phoenix 33-28.
With the win, the Bruins are set to host Robert Morris, who defeated No. 1 seed St. John’s earlier in the evening. Day and time for the second round game has yet to be determined.
“I know very little about them except they beat Kentucky last year and St. John’s on the road. That scares me to death. We got to be ready,” Byrd said.