Determined Bruins take down SIUE

Belmont won, 73-69.

If adhering to the principle of, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,’ then this article would be over.

Belmont (10-5, 2-0) guards missed three free throws in the final minute. Facing SIUE (6-8, 2-1) the team shot 21.1% from outside the arc. The Bruins average 10.5 made triples per game, but finished with just three.

“Anybody’s offense is designed to take what the D gives you,” said Head Coach Rick Byrd. “We were getting good looks. They just weren’t falling. You have to run your offense.”

In the closing moments Amanze Egekeze missed an imperative dunk, but was fouled. Belmont ran a beautiful final play to spring him.

Leading scorer Craig Bradshaw called for pick from Evan Bradds. Bradds left early, diving to the basket. Bradshaw, with the ball, and Bradds appeared to be the most problematic. Crafty Craig elected to feed the freshman Egekeze though.

“Coach called a clear out,” said Egekeze. “My job was to sit in the dead corner and if they collapsed on Craig to be ready. They did.”

Egekeze missed a rather easy dunk, but made two ensuing free throws. He was grabbed low as he elevated to dunk. He still should have converted, but the two made free throws were clutch.

“Amanze played well,” said Head Coach Rick Byrd. “I thought that he had some big plays. He got some long rebounds and blocked a few shots.”

Full credit to Coach Byrd on the play call. Also, kudos to the proven scorer feeding a freshman forward in his second career OVC contest. Bradshaw’s unselfish act embodies the spirit of the Belmont program.

The Bruins held on, handing SIUE their first OVC loss of the campaign. SIUE also had their five game winning streak snapped.

Cougars clawed

SIUE starter Keaton Jackson was not supposed to matter. The senior big man has a reputation as a scrappy glass cleaner.

Minutes in he caught an airball and slammed it down. Seconds later he collected an offensive rebound, transforming the miss into two points.

Jackson’s impact was modest, but efficient. He made his first four field goals. He collected a game-high 11 rebounds for the cause. And he was keeping Belmont off the offensive glass. Wednesday night Jackson cleaned and polished the Belmont backboards.

Though Belmont earned the victory, SIUE was two minutes away from defeating a top-tier Ohio Valley Conference team to improve to 3-0. The game was tied 66-66 with 6:00 minutes remaining. To that point SIUE had controlled the game, while leading by a narrow margin most of the way. Belmont did execute late, leaning on their veteran guards. The Cougars must resort to second guessing. An unfortunate air of doubt creeps in after every loss. Imagine the cloak of confidence a win would have generated.

Key Matchup

Rozell Nunn and Evan Bradds knocked each other all over the court.

Nunn contributed 17 ppg in the Cougars first two OVC games. The wiry-strong Bradds enters his second OVC season with All-Conference potential. Long arms and light on his feet Bradds can float from wing to block unencumbered. He does find it difficult to thwart the hefty pivots though. Nunn tried to overpower Bradds.

Nunn is a shorter forward. He loves to lean on his strength though. Bradds is the opposite. The quick feet enable him to embarrass hulking defenders.

Despite hustling through the first half virtually unused, Bradds finished with 19 points. Bradds got his third point late in the opening half. Touches were limited for the creative forward. When Bradds hit two free throws and Bradshaw followed it up with a pull-up the game felt competitive for the first time.

On the ensuing possession Bradshaw accidentally dribbled it into a defender’s heel. It popped up into Bradshaw’s face. He dribbled ahead unamused and scooped a pass to Barnette on the break. It was Bradshaw’s fourth assist of the first half. After the quirky play Bradshaw held his arm out in elation like a golfer holding his follow through after a great drive.

As long as Belmont keeps winning OVC games Bradshaw is a great bet for Ohio Valley Conference player of the year. Those kind of things often hinge on the success of the team and Belmont did just endure an atypical four losses in five outings.

With injuries hopefully a thing of the past these guards can gel. Again.

A pseudo-dunk by Bradds in the final three minutes gave Belmont a 70-68 lead. They didn’t need much more.

Good teams win when they are not their best. Wednesday evening Belmont was far from their best, but their star scorer and innovative offense suggest they remain a good team.

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