Belmont University men’s basketball defeated Northeast Conference Champion Robert Morris, 82-71, Friday night in the second round of the Postseason NIT.
The game featured two of the top three-point shooting teams in the nation, both coming off inspired road victories to open the Postseason NIT.
The visiting Colonials, suiting up only seven players due to injury and program decisions, early on harnessed the same hot shooting – 16 made three-pointers – that led to their victory at St. John’s Tuesday.
Two deep, contested three-pointers from Karvel Anderson highlighted the fast Robert Morris start, as the Colonials grabbed an 11-5 lead two minutes into the game.
But spurred on by an electrifying student section, the Bruins replied with a 14-2 run over the next 5:48.
Seniors J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) and Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) accounted for 10 of the points as Belmont seized a 19-13 advantage.
The rapid fire momentum swings continued, as Lucky Jones capped a quick 7-0 Robert Morris run to give the visitors a 20-19 lead with 11:01 left in the half.
After Stephan Hawkins pushed the margin to six, Mann buried consecutive three-pointers to square the score at 25.
Those shots ignited another huge Bruin run, with sophomore Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.) punctuating the spurt with an acrobatic, offensive rebound putback to give Belmont a 36-25 lead with 4:39 left in the half.
Another Jones three-pointer and a conventional three-point play from Anderson trimmed the margin to 38-33, before the Bruins closed the half strong.
A fortuitous Bradshaw banked three-pointer at the end of the shot clock helped give Belmont a 44-35 lead at halftime.
Belmont shot 52 percent (17-for-33) from the field in the opening 20 minutes – including 5-for-14 from three-point distance. The Bruins held Robert Morris to 39 percent shooting and forced 11 Colonial turnovers.
Baskets from Hawkins and Jones enabled Robert Morris to close within 47-41 with 16:17 remaining as Belmont had promising looks rim off.
Leading 49-43, Mann and senior Drew Windler (South Milwaukee, Wis.) strung together consecutive three-pointers. When freshman Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) tacked on a reverse layin, the Bruin lead grew to 57-43 with 12:59 remaining.
Each time Belmont appeared on the verge of breaking free, high percentage shots would rim off or Robert Morris would provide an answer. Strong play from Hawkins and Anthony Myers-Pate got the Colonials within 63-53 with 8:43 left.
But moments later, NEC Player of the Year Anderson would pick up his fourth personal foul and be forced to the sidelines.
After free throws from Windler and Bradds, Belmont broke Robert Morris pressure effectively, with Jenkins finding Bradshaw for an emphatic one-hand slam and a 69-55 lead with 6:38 left.
Both teams would cool off down the stretch, but the Bruins maintained a double figure lead behind strong rebounding from Bradds until an Anderson layin got the Colonials within 71-62 with 1:34 remaining.
Belmont went 11-for-12 from the free throw line in the final 1:21 to secure the victory.
All told, Belmont shot 43 percent (25-for-58) from the field – including 8-for-26 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded Robert Morris, 37-36, and held the Colonials to 39 percent shooting.
Belmont went 24-for-25 from the free throw line for the game.
Mann led three Bruins in double figures with 25 points, six rebounds and three steals. Windler added 18 points and five rebounds, while Bradshaw had 17 points, five assists and two blocked shots.
Anderson led Robert Morris (22-14) with 23 points.
Belmont (26-9) advances to the NIT quarterfinal round. The Bruins will face the winner of Clemson/Illinois on Tuesday, March 25.
If Clemson wins, the game will be played at Clemson. If Illinois wins, the game will be played at Belmont.
Tip-time and television to be determined.
Recap provided by Belmont Athletics