Bruised and Beaten
Ohio Valley Conference title contender, the Belmont Bruins (7-3) dropped a tough game to visiting Wright State, 79-71. Wright State (6-4) swept the season series. Belmont now has three losses this season, two to the Raiders. Worse the Bruins are now on a two-game losing streak.
“I was not disappointed in our team,” said Head Coach Rick Byrd. “We are going to struggle to score until we get our two guys back. We are going to struggle to score. Reese (Chamberlain) had another heroic game. It was great to see Spencer (Turner) get to shine like that.”
Belmont had not lost two games in a row since December 28, 2013. The Bruins have not lost two in row at the Curb Event Center since December of 2009.
“Nobody likes to lose,” said Coach Byrd. “It is disappointing. We have had such an unbelievable record in here and to lose two in a row in the same week…”
Belmont led most of the game. It took an off-balanced banked floater from Crishawn Hopkins to put the contest out of reach. Wright State shot 63.0% in the second half, while Belmont made just 44.0% of their shots throughout.
“We caught them on a good shooting night,” said Coach Byrd. “Sometimes we have a good shooting night. They made them and we didn’t make enough.”
Something to Bradds about
Evan Bradds played wonderfully in the win. He finished with either hand under duress. The springy forward tried to create problems in the paint for Wright State. His versatility makes him a difficult cover. The sophomore contributed 11 points, five rebounds, and two steals.
Still Bradds was charged with stopping a 6’10” kiwi center. It was difficult.
Michael Karena of New Zealand origin made almost every shot he took. And Bradds could do little to deter the big. Karena backed down easily. The 255-pound center only took seven shots, but made six of them. His impact was massive.
Jeff Laidig buried a 78-foot shot to beat the halftime buzzer. Instead of being demoralized by Wright State guard Grant Benzinger’s third straight triple, Laidig inbounded the ball only to get it immediately back. From the opposing free throw line Laidig heaved a prayer. Bottoms.
Laidig’s offering helped Belmont to a 36-32 halftime lead.
On the Shelf
Bradshaw missed his second consecutive game. For any team to miss 21.3 ppg is a big deal. Virginia-transfer Taylor Barnette (12.2 ppg) returned to street clothes as he battled with his own injury. Barnette watched eagerly all 2013-2014 season awaiting eligibility following his transfer.
Reece Chamberlain, Holden Mobley, and Spencer Turner formed the starting backcourt. Chamberlain has OVC cred. The conference coaches selected him Preseason All-OVC.
“We have two starters and two of our best players injured and not playing, so I had to make the next choice and those were the two guys (Mobley, Turner) that deserved to,” said Coach Byrd. “They were the next two that deserved to start if you had a depth chart.”
Regionally Turner is a bit of an unknown. No more.
Turner entered the contest with four made three-pointers on the season. He finished with seven for the game. The wonderful shooting night helped Turner produce a new career high for points (23), minutes (32), and made three pointers (7).
“It was really fun, for me to get to see him shine like he did,” said Coach Byrd. “He is a great shooter. We needed it. We needed it. He has worked hard to become a better defender. That is what he can do. That is what we need him to do.”
The senior knocked down triples from all four corners of the court. Many of his baskets resulted from sprinting up the floor. Instinctively, defenders sprint back towards their own basket. When Turner dashed to the corner he found plenty of room for roaming. He also hit a couple three-pointers from the kickout passes.
“Spencer is one of our best shooters,” said Amanze Egekeze. “He had a great game for us. For him to go out and have the game he did was amazing to see.”
Since Bradshaw went down with injury Turner is averaging 16.5 ppg in 30.5 mpg. His basketball world has changed completely.
Without Bradshaw and Barnette, Austin Luke earned major minutes. Coach Byrd essentially tabbed Luke as the backup point guard Thursday night. The redshirt freshman performed admirably. Luke used his size and court vision to accelerate the offensive sets.
Luke’s best contribution came on defense. Belmont was exposed and likely to forfeit a bucket. Desperately Luke slapped down where he expected the ball to be. He was exactly right and the block turned into a steal. A bench full of Bruins roared their approval.
The road does not get any easier as the Bruins will spend the next two weeks on the road. Virginia Commonwealth, Fairfield, and #19 Butler are slated to host Belmont. If any mid-major conference teams can boast a better run over the last decade VCU and Butler are those teams.
Coach Byrd would love to run out a healthy squad for those battles, but he expects Bradshaw to miss another. Barnette should be back according to Coach Byrd.
“Craig has got a calf injury that he suffered against Middle Tennessee and he hasn’t played since,” said Coach Byrd. “Hasn’t practiced since. It is day-to-day, but I would guess doubtful even for next Tuesday. Taylor Barnette sprained his ankle Tuesday and probably has a better shot at playing next week.”