Down 71-69 to heated rival Lipscomb University with six seconds remaining on Wednesday, Belmont men’s basketball head coach Casey Alexander knew there was only one play that could work – “Special.”
On the inbounds play, senior guard Keishawn Davidson found the cutter, sophomore guard Ja’Kobi Gillespie, who soared over defenders for an and-one layup, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Gillespie converted the free throw while the Bruins got the stop on the defensive end, giving Belmont the 72-71 victory.
After the game, Alexander had only one way to describe what unfolded.
“It’s exactly the play. It’s called special for a reason.”
But judging by the score at half, it seemed like Belmont would never have to execute any inbound plays to win in the final seconds.
Typical of the past few games, the Bruins were able to get off to a hot start, turning Lipscomb mistakes into offense.
Following a 3-pointer from sophomore Malik Dia, the Bruins led 17-4.
The Bruins kept piling on the points, leading 44-26 at half while limiting Lipscomb, which is one of the top 3-point-shooting teams in the country, to 2-13 from beyond the arc.
Coming out of the break, Lipscomb seemed to have found some fire, cutting the deficit to 10.
But Belmont responded, extending the lead to 16.
At that point, the Belmont student section was ready to boast the win to the Lipscomb student section, which was seated right across from them.
But then Lipscomb seemed to take all the momentum, cutting into the lead little by little.
Combined with a stagnant Belmont offense, the Bisons found themselves down by one.
With 35 seconds left, the Bruins tried to feed Dia in the post only for the pass to go sailing over his head, awarding possession to Lipscomb.
With 22 seconds remaining, sophomore Cade Tyson defied gravity by blocking a Lipscomb game-leading layup,
But on the inbounds play, the Bisons worked their own magic, faking a handoff and converting an and-one basket of their own to take a 71-70 lead.
But with their three-best scorers out of the game due to injury, the Bisons fell short at the buzzer.
It’s the second consecutive year that Lipscomb and Belmont have gone to the buzzer.
But this year, the odds were in Belmont’s favor.
But despite the win, Alexander said the Bruins were lucky to win despite a poor second half performance.
“We couldn’t get into any rhythm at all at either end,” Alexander said. “I felt defensively we lost our confidence. You’ve got to dig in, stick to principles and find a way to be tough. I’m just glad that we found a way despite really getting outplayed in the last 20 minutes.”
But he also said that this game showcased what he’s been preaching to his team all season – every minute matters.
“We had a chance to win despite being really outplayed in the final 20 minutes because we were so good in the first 20 minutes and that’s why all 40 minutes are so important,” Alexander said.
Belmont looks to extend its win streak to six when it takes on Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday.
This article was written by Ty Wellemeyer