1. This was only my second Battle of the Boulevard–first trip to Allen Arena–so I wasn’t sure what to anticipate from the Lipscomb crowd. Boy was I in for a treat. No slight to the Belmont crowd last week, particularly the students who I had the pleasure of sitting in front of, but the Lipscomb crowd brought it. They were more than a few octaves louder throughout the night at Allen.
2. Speaking of the crowd, no doubt that it played a factor early on, as the Bisons jumped out to a 10-1 lead capitalized by a Kenny Cooper three-pointer, prompting a timeout from Belmont head coach Rick Byrd with 15:15 in the first half.
3. The beauty of covering mid-major basketball is discovering players that you would never hear of otherwise. Often times these guys never get recognized if it’s not for a SportsCenter Top 10 Moment or for that One Shining Moment in March. Lipscomb guard Garrison Mathews is one of those names that everyone across the country that follows college basketball should know now. Mathews scored 20 of his game-high 26 in the second frame. Mathews is what I call a “problem”. At 6’5″ Mathews can shoot over the top of smaller defenders and use his strength to get into the lane with ease. Good luck with that, A-Sun.
3a. Big night for sophomore point guard Kenny Cooper. Cooper came into the game having only connected on two shots from beyond the arc, but doubled that total in the first half. Cooper made key baskets in the second half to stave off the last ditch run by the Bruins, on way to a career-high 18 points.
4. A 8:00 scoring drought and coinciding 12-0 Belmont run allowed the Bruins to climb back within one, 18-17, with 5:51 in the first half. The Bruins were unable to do much with it, as the Bisons outscored them 10-3 to the end the half, pushing their lead back to eight, 28-20. Those are the opportunities where a team playing in a hostile road environment needs to capitalize on. Given the experience that the Bruins have one would’ve expected them to be able to hold onto momentum heading into the half despite the crowd.
5. I think this is an obvious statement, but Belmont isn’t going to win very many games when senior forward Amanze Egekeze goes scoreless in the first half, let alone any half. The preseason All-OVC selection came into tonight’s contest averaging a team-high 18.2 point per game. Egekeze’s lone basket of the night came from behind the arc with 13:07 left in the second half.
6. Shooting didn’t improved from last Monday night for Belmont. The Bruins shot 35 percent in the first half in last weeks loss to Lipscomb. They shot an even worse 32 percent clip tonight in the first half. The 13 turnovers in the half didn’t help the Bruins cause either. Overall, the Bruins shot 34 percent, down from 35 percent in last weeks contest. For the season, Belmont is shooting just over 46 percent from the field, but only 34.5 percent against the Bisons.
7. The Bisons set the tone in the second half with a swift 8-0 run, to give them a 16-point lead with 15:59 to play. Senior center George Brammeier brought the house down, sort of, with is steal and dunk–seriously the fight with gravity almost went south—that prompted yet another Rick Byrd timeout, along with some choice words to the officials after a no call led to Brammeier’s breakaway.
8. Typically, in this rivalry a double-digit lead doesn’t mean much for Lipscomb. The Bisons blew large leads in both heartbreaking losses last year versus the Bruins and nearly did the same last Monday night, holding on to a 17-point second half lead. I was thinking the same would happen when the Bruins went up by 16 early in the second half and were quickly pressed by an 8-0 Bruins run. A 14-4 run in response gave the Bisons an insurmountable 18 point lead. Although, they almost gave it up again.
9. Lipscomb came into last weeks matchup having lost 11 straight to their rivals from 3 miles down Belmont Boulevard. Casey Alexander’s program was close last year, losing both contests by a possession. This year, they’ve controlled the majority of the 80 minutes played between the two and are undoubtedly the better team as we sit here in early December. Program defining sweep? Too early to tell, but this should go a long way in how the program is viewed by recruits in the mid-state and towards the teams confidence once they start Atlantic Sun play.
As for Belmont, Byrd is one of the best to roam the sidelines in college basketball and will surely get his veteran team to put it together. Lets not forget that this is the same team that beat Vanderbilt and MTSU in the same week and is a few possessions away from owning two more wins against quality Power conference opponents, in Washington and Providence. The absence of two-time OVC Player of the Year Evan Bradds is evident, as the Bruins don’t have a clear inside scoring presence. Byrd told me last week after the loss, that his offenses have always been built around a strong post player. Hard to imagine that being the case this year, so the Bruins will have to work with what they have on the roster—strong perimeter shooters and veteran leadership.