Photos: Andrew Hunt
The Belmont men’s basketball team staged a late rally to defeat the Eastern Kentucky Colonels 53-52 on Friday in the Ohio Valley Conference semifinals.
Sophomore forward Evan Bradds struggled from the field for most of the game, but hit a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds of the game to give Belmont the final edge.
With the win, Belmont advanced to its third consecutive OVC title game.
Belmont trailed by as much as 10 points and held the lead for just four total minutes in what ended up being a very defensive game.
“They had a hard time scoring. Our guys just locked it down,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd. “We ended up playing as more of a defensive team than an offensive team.”
The Bruins gained their first lead of the game after a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Taylor Barnette in the opening minute of the game.
A 3-pointer from senior forward Eric Stutz sparked a 12-4 run for EKU that put them up 20-13 with under 13 minutes to play in the half.
A dunk from Bradds and a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Caleb Chowbay cut the lead to two with 11 minutes remaining.
The Colonels then went on a 9-1 run capped off by another 3-pointer by Stutz to put them up by 10 with eight minutes to go in the half.
The Bruins cut the lead back down to five with a minute to go thanks to a 3-pointer and a layup from senior guard Holden Mobley coming off the bench.
Stutz played a key factor for the Colonels in the first half as he went 6-for-6 from the field and scored 14 of their 33 points.
The Bruins went into halftime trailing by seven, 33-26.
The second half began with both teams trading shots as neither could gain an advantage.
A pair of made free throws by senior guard Corey Walden pushed the EKU lead back to seven points with just over 13 minutes to play.
The Bruins shifted the momentum with a 9-2 run capped off by a Barnette 3-pointer and a layup from junior guard Craig Bradshaw to tie the game at 46 with just under 10 minutes to go.
A pair of free throws by Stutz was matched by a floater off the glass from senior guard Reece Chamberlain to keep the game tied at 48.
Barnette gave Belmont its first lead of the second half with just under four minutes left, 51-50.
The guard finished with a team-high 14 points and shot 4-of-7 from behind the arc.
EKU took the lead right back with a layup by senior guard Timmy Knipp to put the score at 52-51 with a little over two minutes remaining.
With 26 seconds to go, Bradds drew the foul and sank what ended up being the winning free throws.
“I think every kid dreams in his backyard of playing and having to hit one or two free throws to win the game for his team,” said Bradds. “It was a little nerve-wracking knowing that I had already missed two.”
After Belmont switched to a zone defense in the final moments, a last-second shot by Walden bounced off the side of the rim to end the game.
“We hadn’t played zone all night,” said Byrd. “I felt like it would surprise them and it might run some time off and leave them totally confused. They were and they had to call a timeout.”
The Bruins will face No. 25 Murray State on Saturday in a rematch of the 2013 OVC Championship overtime thriller.
The Racers are undefeated in OVC play this season and beat the Bruins at Murray State earlier this season.
The two teams will play at Municipal Auditorium on Saturday with tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m. on ESPN2.